Exec who bared mental hospital COVID-19 cases ordered transferred to Las Piñas drug facility

Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 15 2020 02:07 PM | Updated as of Apr 15 2020 07:06 PM

A free shuttle for frontliners picks up passengers in front of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) in Mandaluyong City on April 9, 2020. Larry Monserate Piojo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - An official of the National Center for Mental Health (NCHM) who has been vocal about the COVID-19 situation at the facility has been removed from her post, documents revealed Wednesday. 

Clarita Avila, NCMH Chief Administrative Officer, was ordered transferred to the Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC) in Las Piñas on orders of the Department of Health. 

DOH Department Personnel Order No. 2020-1078 dated March 9 said Avila was to be transferred to DATRC to "assist the current OIC (officer-in-charge) in managing and making the said facility operational."

On April 13, the NCMH relayed the instruction through a hospital order signed by NCMH chief Roland Cortez, who said the transfer was to "take effect immediately."

The development came just days after the NCMH barred Avila from speaking about the situation at the Mandaluyong facility, where she had alleged that several patients in the psych ward had died and that personnel were in quarantine for COVID-19 exposure. 

Avila, who has served at NCMH for 30 years, called her transfer a form of harassment and persecution and said she did not intend to put the institution in bad light. 

“I am being harassed, I’m being persecuted for coming out to the media of what is happening here in mental hospital," she said. 

“He (Cortez) was prohibiting me to talk to the media about the real situation inside NCMH with regard to the infection rate of COVID-19 among our mental patients and employees,” Avila explained. 

Avila said she was still reporting at NCMH and was considering legal action.

“My lawyer is handling the case as I know the order is unjustified, whimsical and a violation of my rights under the Civil Service Law,”' she said.

Last March, ABS-CBN News shared photos of some medical workers in NCMH wearing improvised PPEs like hand gloves as foot covers and plastic bags as head covers. 

Some nurses have gone as far as wearing motorcycle helmets and water containers as face shields. 

At the time, Avila said 5 in-patients and 11 employees had tested positive for COVID-19. One patient had already died. 

"When I went to the media and saw these, maraming naawa (many took pity), and now we have an outpouring of support from many generous people around us,” Avila explained. 

According to Cortez, who has served at the hospital for one year, Avila is the subject of numerous complaints for not being supportive of the institution’s programs, failing to sign checks and being absent in meetings. 

He said Avila is not authorized to talk to the media regarding any information about COVID-19. 

“Dito sa COVID 19 siya ang naninira sa amin na ang NCMH wala raw ginagawa sa COVID 19, which is a lie, we are protecting 3,200 patients," he said. 

(She is destroying the reputation of NCMH by saying we are not doing anything about COVID-19, which is a lie, we are protecting 3,200 patients.)

He said the hospital has been guarding patients since March and that they are under lockdown. 

"Kung wala wala kaming ginagawa, our mortality is very low kumpara sa mga ospital na mas kumpleto ang gamit,” Cortez said. 

(If we were not doing anything, our mortality is very low compared to other hospitals that are more equipped.)

Avila, meanwhile, said 14 sections at the hospital supposed to be under her were removed and only 3 were retained. As to not signing checks, she explained she is not chief of finance. 

She added that she always had very satisfactory ratings for the last 30 years but was given an unsatisfactory rating by Dr. Cortez during his time. 

“He gave me an unsatisfactory rating during the time he was suspended for corruption by the Sandiganbayan when he was not even around to see my performance,” Avila said. 

Avila also cited how Cortez began to outsource food and laundry services for NCMH Caloocan even if the hospital has its own dietary facility and personnel. 

“His own decision to outsource the laundry and the food, tingnan niyo rice, konting noodles at bulok na saging, itim na hinati pa (look at the rice, there's a bit of noodles and rotten banana, already black and halved)," she said. 

"What will we do with our equipment, what will we do with our dietitians. And worst of all, he’s providing a building for the workers na dito niluluto (cooking food) using our electricity and resources. Where is saving there?,” Avila said. 

Cortez, meanwhile, said the food being served did not meet the 600 calories per meal requirement that’s why he decided to outsource. 

“Walang masyadong protein na nakikita mo kasi umaagos ng sabaw (There is not much protein because there's too much liquid). We wanted to give the best nutritional value for our patients,” Cortez said. 

The two officials also did not see eye to eye about enforcing a skeletal force at NCMH. 

Cortez said of 412 nurses at the hospital, almost 150 were no longer reporting for work and included suspect cases. 

Avila said COVID-19 infections at the hospital could have been prevented if management was proactive in reducing workforce. 

She said the hospital did not go on skeletal force at the beginning, leading to a high infection rate. 

To date, a total of 59 NCMH employees have tested positive for COVID-19, with 394 probable cases awaiting for swab results and 41 in home quarantine. 

Among patients, 9 have tested positive for COVID-19, among whom 3 have already died.