EVICTED, AVOIDED: Health workers decry discrimination while on frontlines of COVID-19 fight

Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 25 2020 07:41 PM | Updated as of Mar 25 2020 09:58 PM

A health worker crosses the bridge on Ortigas Avenue going to Pasig City on March 17, 2020 after public transportation has been ordered not to operate by the government. Fernando G. Sepe Jr. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Medical frontliners such as doctors, nurses and other health care workers have expressed concern over discrimination some of them have experienced when people find out they work in hospitals handling patients of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

Rose (not her real name) is an administrative personnel working at The Medical City in Iloilo, where a case of COVID-19 was recorded. 

She said members of her barangay immediately went to the boarding house where she stayed to disinfect the premises. 

“Sinabi ko naman po sa kanila na hindi ako nurse, hindi ako nagha-handle ng patient, nasa back office ako, pero kailangan daw nila mag-disinfect dahil doon pa rin ako nagtatrabaho,” Rose shared. 

(I told them I'm not a nurse, I don't handle patients, I'm in the back office, but they said they needed to disinfect because that's where I work.)

And when Rose’s landlady found out, she was immediately told to leave the boarding house. 

“Ipapa-lock niya daw ang boarding house kaysa magkaproblema pa raw kaysa buong subdivision ang aking kaaway, ako na lang daw ang umalis,” Rose said. 

(She said she would lock down the boarding house and instead of having a problem where the entire subdivision will be my enemy, I should just leave.)

Dr. Felix Ray Villa, chief of The Medical City Iloilo, said they did not expect some people to have this kind of reaction. 

“Nakakalumo kasi instead of us getting support from our community, 'yun pa ang nangyayari sa staff namin,” he said. 

(It makes me sad because instead of us getting support from our community, this is what's happening to our staff.)

Kristelle Tesoro Reguyal, a nurse working in a hospital in Cabanatuan City, said she also experienced the same discrimination. 

“Nung nalaman ng neighbor ko, sabi sa akin dapat hindi muna ako papasukin o pauwiin. 'Yung kasamahan ko hindi isinasakay sa tricycle,” she shared. 

(When my neighbor learned, I was told I shouldn't go to work or shouldn't be allowed to go home. My colleague was declined for a tricycle ride.)

According to Dr. Percival Punzal, Adult Pulmonologist at the Philippine Heart Center, discrimation against health professionals is prevalent in the country today. 

Among those who reported discrimination was a nurse in Quezon City who was refused by a tricycle driver. 

“Also Doc, 'yung mga tricycle refuse na maghatid sa PHC. 'Yung Grab, they cancel bookings. May tumawag sa PHC na nagrereklamo kasi kapitbahay niya worker bakit nakikita pa sa PHC,” the text message from the nurse read, presumably sent out before the Luzon lockdown took effect, suspending public transport. 

(Doc, tricycles refuse rides to PHC. Grab drivers cancel bookings. Someone called PHC to complain that their neighbor is a worker who is still being seen at the PHC.)

In Binangonan, Rizal, nurses were not allowed to stay in dormitories. 

“True po kasi kahit sa amin dito Binangonan... admin is looking for apartments for the frontline nurses... they refuse to accept 'pag nalaman na nurse.”

(It's true even for us here in Binangonan... our admin is looking for apartments for the frontline nurses... they (owners) refuse to accept when they learn we're nurses.)

“The same thing happened here. They were kicked out of a dormitory. The city officials were able to find a hotel to house them with free food.”

In Davao City, nurses reported being evicted from their dormitories. 

In Cagayan de Oro City, passengers refuse to ride jeepneys when nurses in scrub suits are on board. 

“We have reports of discrimination especially among our nurses here in our government hospital. There were some who were refused by taxi and jeepney drivers. Others felt they were discriminated when passengers of the jeepneys would go down, refusing to be in the same jeepneys as our nurses.”

Dr. Punzal said he understood this was probably because of the public’s fear of being infected with COVID-19, but added that for some, it has gone beyond rational fear. 

“Nagsisilbi ka sa iyong kapwa pero ang mga tao sa paligid mo ay nandidiri ayaw kang lapitan. I could understand that na mayroong takot o fear even sabihin natin na may panic, natatakot na sila ay mahawa. But for some people, it has gone beyond rational fear," he said. 

(You serve the people but the people around you don't want to get near you. I could understand that there are those who are afraid or are in a panic, afraid to get the disease. But for some people, it has gone beyond rational fear.)

He said people should appreciate the work of health care professionals and other hospital staff.

In The Medical City Iloilo, Dr. Villa said health workers do not wear their uniforms when going to and leaving the hospital to avoid discrimination. 

“The health care providers, the health care workers and the support staff, they are the last soldiers, last defenders. After them wala nang matitira (there is no one left). We have to make them comfortable, and healthy and appreciated as possible,” Villa said. 

Dr. Jose Santiago Jr., President of the Philippine Medical Association, said health care workers practice health protocols after duty so there is no reason for people to discriminate against them. 

“Kung lalabas 'yan ng ospital (Upon leaving the hospital) they make sure na they are safe to go, to transport, to go to their homes, hindi sila uuwi kung hindi sila (they won't go home if they are not) safe. There’s no reason for them to be discriminated,” Santiago explained. 

Meanwhile, the Iloilo government already opened a portion of the Iloilo City Community College to serve as temporary shelter for hospital employees after private individuals and groups expressed support for medical frontliners.