At a time of a global shortage of health care workers (HCW) due to the overwhelming number of Covid-19 stricken patients, many Filipino nurses abroad find themselves risking their own lives and safety to volunteer to care for critically ill patients.
“I need to put myself forward. We are super short-staffed everywhere here”, explains Rachel Anne Rosell, a Filipina who works for the National Health Service (NHS) in England. Rosell volunteered to be part of the Nightingale Hospital in London, a facility specially built in just nine days, to care for Covid-19 patients.
“My family was hesistant. They said, you’re putting yourself at risk. Pero kailangan, kasi ito ang calling ko,” she says.
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Jenny Villar Togle is an NHS Nurse Assistant in Scotland. She admits she was initially against their hospital opening a Covid-19 unit, but after some soul-searching found herself volunteering for the facility.
“Noong nalaman ko I was so against it. I even told my workmate, Why should I put myself at risk? Then the next day I woke up and bigla kong naisip, bakit nga ba hindi?...Kinausap ko iyong Line Manager that I was willing to volunteer,” she shares.
Togle, who cared for patients during the SARS outbreak in Singapore in 2003, knew her experience would be essential.
The initiative of Filipino nurses in the UK have not gone unnoticed. Tuesday last week, British broadcaster Piers Morgan recognized their hardwork and sacrifice, saying they are the unsung heroes who save people’s lives.
“Naiyak ako,“ recalls Togle. “Kasi finally na-appreciate nila ang mga Filipino, on National TV pa.”
Aimee Gatab, another NHS Filipino nurse in England, hopes their contribution in this current pandemic, would make foreign countries ease up on the numerous requirements and fees they demand from foreign health workers.
“We pay for many things— exams, visa, and it’s a struggle to get your family. Baka ngayon pag isipan na nila. Nakita na nila paano tayo pinakikinabangan,” she says.
The current pandemic is tough both physically and emotionally. Gatab for one works in the Geriatric Department where none of their Covid-19 patients have survived to date.
“We had over 20 Covid-19 patients, 11 have already died and we still have 16 remaining”, she says.
“Ovewhelmed kami. Almost everyday, may namamatay,” she adds.
What is the most painful part of her present task?
“Nakikita silang mamatay mag-isa.”
Over in a suburb near New York City, another Filipina nurse admits it’s a struggle to work everyday.
“Have you ever seen someone gasp for air?” she asks.
Don, who requested anonymity, says patients who are desperately trying to breathe and stay alive has become a common sight. Sometimes they have to deal with two or more experiencing the same struggle.
“You are helping one patient, and another one already needs you. It is overwhelming,” he shares.
The Philippines needs you
While Filipino nurses shine overseas, the country feels the effects of their exodus to greener pastures even more with the pandemic.
The Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency (POEA) has already banned all medical workers from leaving the country due to the shortage of available health workers that can be deployed to deal with Covid-19.
The Association of Nursing Service Administrators of the Philippines (ANSAP), however, says while there is a shortage of nurses, the group has found creative ways to manage it.
“We have done innovations in staffing, scheduling, and patient care. So we can handle it,” says Linda Buhat, President of ANSAP. Although Buhat admits that getting more experienced nurses to fight the pandemic is another matter.
“Nursing is a skill. So we need time for them to adapt the skill,” she explains.
ANSAP hopes that even though the country cannot match the 6-figure salaries offered abroad, recent reforms could encourage more nurses to remain in the country.
Salaries, previously as low as Php 8,000 for nurses in private hospitals, have already been raised to at least Php 18,000. They have also worked on providing better working conditions, opportunities for higher education, and career paths.
Despite reports of nurses complaining about the travel ban, Buhat says many have postponed their travel plans in order to serve their country first.
“With this pandemic I can assure you that the nurses will stay,” she assures.
We should be there
Meanhwhile, some Filipino nurses overseas regret not being home to help their fellow Filipinos.
“I feel like I should be serving my own country. But since I’m here, so long as I’m helping people, I still feel fulfilled,” says Rosell.
Gatab for her part is confident many Filipinos will volunteer if asked to come home and help.
“Maraming Filipino nurses na nagpunta nga ng Spain nung humingi sila ng tulong. Tingin ko kung kailangan, willing din silang umuwi. Kahit ako, uuwi ako,” she says.
“Sarili kong kababayan hindi ko naa-alagaan. Pero iyong mga puti, nagsisilbi ako sa kanila,” Gatab adds.