MANILA — Many health workers, doctors and nurses have reached their tipping point, overwhelmed by the workload while trying their best not to contract coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a specialist said Monday.
“It has been four months and healthcare workers start to burn out,” said Dr. Monica Pia Reyes-Montecillo, internal medicine and infectious disease specialist, in a statement.
“Many healthcare workers get sick, and no life is worth one million pesos. We are not superheroes. We are not immune to the virus.”
The government has allotted P1 million for health workers who die in the line of duty while battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, those who fall critically ill are set to receive P100,000 although funding is still an issue because the law providing for such benefits already lapsed.
As of July 26, 35 health workers have died due to COVID-19.
Reyes-Montecillo was among the frontline health workers who spoke at a virtual forum organized by the Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, and Philippine College of Chest Physicians, Philippine Pediatric Society, and Philippine General Hospital Physicians Association.
She pointed out that they regularly deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases as hospitals reach maximum capacity.
The infectious disease specialist said many health workers have resigned while others are demoralized, especially with the nature of the COVID-19 disease, which prevents families from comforting their loved ones infected with the virus.
Meanwhile, Daryl R. Gaba, Nursing Support and Patient Services Assistant Director at Makati Medical Center, expressed concern about the decreasing number of nurses, which usually comprise 60 to 70 percent of a health organization’s manpower.
“The daily surge of infected individuals is now overwhelming our exhausted workforce, decreasing in number, and left short on essential support,” he said.
“Statistics and graphs may give us easy decision points on a national governance level; but think of the experiences of Filipino Nurses, each digit is a soul that matters—a brave frontliner who also needs to be rescued,” he added.
In the past weeks, nurses have been holding silent protests in government hospitals, including San Lazaro Hospital, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and National Kidney and Transplant Institute.
Dr. John Jefferson Besa, a senior resident of Internal Medicine-PGH, said there is a need to intensify contract tracing and referral systems.
“We call upon DOH to establish a clear referral system between hospitals to accept and manage our non-COVID patients,” he said.
“This pandemic has taken its toll on our patients with cancer, chronic diseases, HIV, among others.”
The government has been receiving flak following reports of patients unable to find a hospital that can accept them.
Besa said patients with chronic diseases should not be hopping from one hospital to another.
The Department of Health attempted to address this through the recently unveiled One Hospital Command. DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the program will ensure that hospitals are coordinating with each other for the proper referral of patients.
The health groups involved in the forum called for solidarity and for everyone to help fight the disease.
Among the recommendations they gave for the government are:
- Expand quarantine facilities for asymptomatic and mild cases to better allocate hospital beds to severe and critical patients.
- Intensify community interventions such as contact tracing and better referral systems
- Identify which hospitals have vacancies to properly direct and coordinate patients to them.
- Identify centers that will cater to non-COVID patients such like those with chronic diseases such as TB, HIV, cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, and many others
- Increase in proper PPEs, hospital supplies, drugs, and manpower
- Identify proper compensation and better healthcare worker – patient ratio
- Philhealth must provide detailed guidelines on the memorandum (Philhealth Circular No. 2020-0009 “Benefit packages for inpatient care of probable and confirmed COVID-19 developing severe illness/outcomes”) and expansion of case rate.
The health professionals also reminded the public to wear face masks and face shields, do frequent hand washing, and practice physical distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19.