MANILA - A hospital group on Wednesday appealed to companies and offices with nursing graduate staff doing "non-nursing" work to "lend" them to healthcare facilities as the country continues to battle COVID-19.
“At this very critical moment, we appeal for reinforcing of government agencies employing nurses doing non-nursing jobs to lend their nurses to the hospitals before the last defenses of this war, your hospitals, will be totally overrun,” Philippine Hospital Association President (PHA) Dr. Jaime Almora said.
The PHA is an organization of private and government healthcare facilities comprising of 1,986 member-hospitals.
The appeal was made during the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs hearing, which zeroed in on the necessary steps that the government and private sectors could do together to cushion the effects of the pandemic.
Almora said the bulk of nursing graduates have transferred to the uniformed service due to high salaries and benefits, like their 9,000 graduates who have supposedly transferred to the Philippine National Police “doing non-nursing jobs.”
Health facilities based in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, according to him, have reached their "breaking point” due to the continued growth of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“The capabilities of our COVID centers are continuously diminishing. This is not due to lack of skills or dedication or stamina of its health workers. Because they have been giving their best despite so many challenges for over a year now,” he explained to the panel.
Private hospitals now only have 30 percent of the “usual 50 percent of their usual nursing manpower.”
Many nurses and doctors, he said, have been infected by COVID-19 since the pandemic began over a year ago.
There was also a 2-year lull in producing new batches of nursing graduates brought about by the K-12 program.
“As much as 260 nursing school sprung up to fill the demand. Students flocked to the nursing school including doctors. We export a lot of our nurses and our doctor-nurses. But on or about 2008, it became apparent that more than one-half of the nursing schools that producing nursing graduates cannot pass the nursing board exams,” Almora noted.
He also suggested that the number of nursing schools must still be increased so the Philippines can produce more nurses.
The dearth of health personnel became graver, with many nurses leaving hospitals for either overseas jobs or transfer to other better-paying industries like the business process outsourcing or BPO.
HIGHER SALARY FOR NURSES
Almora bats for higher salary for nurses and timely release of benefits to prevent them from leaving the medical industry.
But according to the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), majority of nursing graduates are still in the country.
Only, they opt to join the uniformed sector, BPO, and other better-paying industries.
“It’s not really the shortage of nurses but the maldistribution. We have nurses in the Department of Education, Bureau of Fire [Protection], Bureau of Corrections, the PNP and other non-nursing fields. It’s because of compensation and benefits primarily. And the value that the government is giving to our nurses,” PNA President Melbert Reyes pointed out to the committee.
Nurses must also be given the right to join organizations that would help them fight for their rights as workers, said Reyes.
Both the PHA and the PNA insist that it is time that nurses should be given a higher pay and better benefits in recognition to the hard work that they do every day and the danger that goes with the profession.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a statement, has expressed his strong support on the hospital sector’s call for the temporary return to hospitals of nurses now working in other fields.
“I support the appeal of the PHA for private entities to deploy their nurses engaged in an entirely different and non nursing related work to our public and private hospitals. DOH continues to have difficulty hiring nurses here in the NCR where we have 30-35% of available slots still vacant,” according to Duque.
“Especially encouraging our nurses in call centers and other entities to consider applying for hospital positions in the public sector...DOH is actively hiring but very few takers," he added.
Only non-COVID cases are reportedly being reimbursed by PhilHealth in both private and public hospitals.
“What is the reason given for non-COVID claims being prioritized?” Sen. Imee Marcos asked.
“We are not given the reason why… this is also causing financial distress to private hospitals as well as government hospitals,” Almora said.
Citing some examples, he pointed to one unnamed Manila-based hospital with P1.2 billion standing claims; another with P700 million, and the smallest for COVID-19 centers with at least P50 million unclaimed hospital claims.
Hospitals survive by either using their remaining savings, selling some assets or borrowing money from banks, he said.
“If the hospitals are not paid, the doctors, the professional components are not also paid. So here are doctors working for the COVID patients, but they are not being paid,” Almora explained.
“This is unacceptable… obviously it is not acceptable to you. And neither it is acceptable to the committee,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan then urged the Senate Committee of the Whole to reconvene and exercise its oversight function to evaluate how government agencies concerned in addressing the pandemic like PhilHealth, are doing their job.
Marcos said the committee will call on the state insurer's officials to explain about the unreleased hospital claims for COVID-19 cases.
“At this point, parang 'wala kaming pakialam sa inyo. Magtiis kayo,' ang dating sa atin dito dahil you are the frontliners and yet this is how you are being treated by the government in terms of government support in terms of funding. This is totally unacceptable. We must look into this, and get results,” said Pangilinan.
Last week, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc (PHAPI) had also complained about PhilHealth's unremitted hospital claims since March last year, which as of December last year, already reached P28 billion.
The hospitals are also complaining about the state insurance agency's debit credit payment method (DCPM) scheme, that health facility officials needed to sign before they could get 60 percent of their collectibles to the health insurance agency.
PhilHealth spokesperson Shirley Domingo in a text message said: “We have instituted the DCPM so as to the release funds in IATF-identified areas.”
Duque who is also PhilHealth chairman of the board, meantime said: “PhilHealth on the other hand has adopted the Debit Credit Payment Mechanism to speed up reimbursement of claims filed by the private and public hospitals from March 2020 to April 2021.”
The PHA also seeks the committee’s intervention in pressing for PhilHealth's immediate payment of their submitted hospital claims, as well as in covering even mild COVID-19 patients as earlier stated in the IATF guidelines.