DOH ‘gaslighting’ doctors to the barrios, says health group

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 29 2020 09:45 PM

MANILA — A health group on Monday said the Department of Health (DOH) seems to be “gaslighting” doctors to the barrios (DTTBs) who are speaking out against their reassignment to Cebu City.

Two batches of the DTTB program released a position paper on Sunday questioning the DOH’s decision to reassign at least 40 doctors from Western Visayas to hospitals in Cebu City, including private facilities.

In response to this, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said, “The Department of Health called on doctors who have rendered service to the country during this time that we are in a state of public health emergency and some of them refused.”

She then said they are grateful for health workers who continue to show up for work.

“The appeal being made by the DOH for ‘patriotism’ in the current ‘public health emergency’ is unfair. It makes it appear that anyone refusing the redeployment is insensitive and unpatriotic,” said Dr. Gene Nisperos of the Community Medicine and Development Foundation.

“This is plain gaslighting,” he said. “This is unfair and smacks emotional blackmail.”

Gaslighting is defined as a form of psychological manipulation to make a person doubt his or her own thoughts.

“Physicians will readily step up if they see that government is doing its best, if they see that government has exhausted all its means. But they will not be sacrificial lambs to hide the DOH's past and continuing failures,” Nisperos said.

Vergeire insisted that the move is “within bounds” of the DOH’s authority and the DTTB program since Cebu City is an emerging hotspot for COVID-19 cases.

But Nisperos said the DOH is only “removing doctors already assigned to geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.”

“These are resource poor communities who are also in dire need of care,” he said, pointing out.

The DTTB program was started in 1993 to address the lack of doctors in far-flung areas.

Nisperos said the DOH should instead hire more doctors to man hospitals.

“The DOH must be doing a REALLY REALLY bad job at it if it is having a hard time recruiting doctors in a country that has been a top exporter of doctors and nurses in the last half century,” he told ABS-CBN News.

He also blamed the Cebu local government for reportedly letting go of health workers last year.

“What the governor did effectively crippled healthcare in the provincial and district hospitals, which is why they cannot accept COVID-19 patients today,” he said.

Nisperos said that if the DOH wants to talk about patriotism, it should make a national call for all doctors to help out.

“Improve their package so that it becomes more attractive to doctors in the private sector. Offer a balik-DTTB program for former DTTBs to serve during the pandemic,” he suggested.

He said this is also an issue of human rights since it is “the right of underserved communities to (be under) the care and protection of these DTTBs.”