Health workers and patients of the century-old maternity hospital fear that its transfer is prelude to its privatization.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Six months pregnant Jen, 25, came all the way from Rosario, Cavite, to have her pre-natal check-up at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital (DJFMH) here. She is just one of the thousands of women who are willing to make the long trip from the provinces just to avail of services from the government hospital.
Coming out of her check-up, Jen was greeted by a group of health workers and patients protesting the impending eviction of the 96-year old maternity hospital.
Employees and patients were joined by members of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) and Gabriela in a picket held in front of hospital on May 3 opposing the eventual closure of the hospital. The series of protests began last week, aiming to stop the planned transfer of the hospital to the Department of Health (DOH) compound.
Dr. Margarita Esquivel, DMD, president of the DJFMH Employees Union, told Bulatlat that the former hospital director had kept the plan under wraps, until they announced that the hospital must be vacated by June 9, which took employees and patients by surprise.
Esquivel said they fear that the transfer would lead to the privatization of the hospital, which caters to more than 2,000 in- and out-patients combined in a day.
Majority of the patients of the maternity hospital came from the poorest of the poor. Esquivel said patients are allowed to donate any amount the patient can afford to give.
The Fabella Hospital is a maternal and newborn tertiary hospital where mothers from Manila and nearby provinces come to give birth because of its affordable cost. Last year, the World Health Organization recognized the hospital as “a role model of the World Health Organization-Western Pacific Region Office for its essential newborn care programs, which have been proven to reduce infant morbidity and mortality.”
According to the AHW, the newly-installed Medical Center Chief of Fabella Hospital, Dr. Esmeraldo Ilem announced during the April 5 flag ceremony that the hospital did not pass the accreditation for International Organization for Standardization (ISO) due to its deteriorating condition. He added that they were ordered by the DOH Assistant Secretary for Hospital Operations to immediately vacate the hospital. A new Fabella Hospital will be constructed at the DOH compound.
Robert Mendoza, AHW president, said that instead of closing Fabella, the government should repair the hospital, if it is in a deteriorating condition. He added that hospitals like Fabella should not be demolished but should be expanded so that many more mothers can avail of its services.
Mendoza said that the government has been actually using the same reason — that the hospital is old, weak and deteriorating — to remove Fabella from its current location. But government has actually neglected the century-old hospital, when it did not allocate sufficient funds for its repair, he said.
Under President Aquino, Fabella hospital has zero funds for capital outlay in 2011, 2013 and 2015. While in 2014, the government allocated P840 million in capital outlay. However, the AHW questions the increase saying that it coincides with the DOH’s invitation to Bid for the Design and Build of the Infrastructure Project for Fabella hospital (phase II) inside the DOH compound.
AHW believes that the hospital’s condition is not the real reason behind the transfer. The group said since 2007, there have been plans to sell the land of the Old Bilibid Compound where the hospital stands. Located within the compound are Fabella hospital, Central Market and Manila City Jail. But the plan to remove Fabella Hospital was foiled due to the strong opposition of the health workers.
Last year, the Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC) again demanded that the land be vacated. In a letter obtained by the AHW dated September 2015, the HGC said it has to sell the property “to recover the government’s financial exposure in the failed urban renewal project and to comply with the Commission on Audit’s perennial findings to fast-track the disposition of acquired assets.”
Pulling out equipment, decreasing patients
Marlyn Dumandan, a nurse in the hospital’s out-patient department, said some employees reported that some equipment had already been labeled “for pull-out,” and patient intake has decreased.
She said the Maternity High Risk or Ward II, which services pregnant women who are at high risk, has no more patients. Empty cribs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit were also labeled for pull-out.
While the out-patient department still receives patients, mothers who are about to give birth were being refused by the hospital, said Dumandan.
“One patient who joined our picket last week was refused by the hospital and was referred to the Philippine General Hospital. She was about to give birth on May 1,” Dumandan said.
A midwife who requested anonymity told Bulatlat that patients have drastically decreased in the delivery room, which, she said, is unusual.
She said even if it is not yet the “ber months,” or the peak season, they never encounter having only one to three patients in the delivery room. “Usually we have 10 patients in eight hours or 100 a day,” she said in an interview. She said she is not aware if the hospital already has a policy to refuse mothers who are about to give birth.
Fight for social services for the poor
Esquivel called on all employees of the hospital to unite and fight for their right to security of tenure and also the patients’ right to social services. She called on Health Secretary Janette Garin and the government to buy the land for Fabella hospital patients.
Mendoza said that this year’s Health Workers Day on May 6 will highlight the condition of Fabella Hospital. They vow to strengthen the struggle against this new threat of privatization and state abandonment of another government hospital. They also call on the government to modernize the hospital at its present site using public funds, for employees not be scattered or lose their tenure and for patients not to be disenfranchised from accessing health services.
Doris Bernal, 39, a patient of the Fabella Hospital who joined the protest also vowed to join the fight. She and many of her friends, and their children, were born in Fabella. She slammed the administration’s presidential candidate Mar Roxas.
“Would you still vote for Mar Roxas? He has been boasting tuwid na daan (righteous path) but why is this happening? Fabella has been serving the poor, but the government wants to remove it because of business. Is that ‘tuwid na daan’?” she said during the program.
She said she is one with the struggle not only for her but all the poor who benefited and will benefit from Fabella Hospital’s services. She criticized the politicians who are campaigning for this year’s election but have been mum about the issue. “Where are those politicians now that we need them? They’re just full of empty promises,” she said.
“Whatever happens to our struggle, I will still continue to fight with you. I would have at least, stood up with you for the poor majority,” she added.