MANILA, Philippines – The land where Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Sta Cruz, Manila currently stands could soon be used for commercial purposes.
This is what employees and patients of Fabella fear if the demolition of the hospital will push through beyond the June 9 deadline given by the Department of Health (DOH). The department notified occupants of the hospital to vacate the building earlier this year upon finding out that 4 out of its 8 buildings are structurally unsound.
The scheduled demolition, however, did not push through on Thursday.
DOH Secretary Janette Garin denied that the hospital will be demolished.
“It is up to the management’s decision to lessen the volume of traffic/people due to recommendation of the Department of Public Works and Highways,” she said, citing the DPWH’s suggestion to retrofit the structure for it to withstand earthquakes.
The management of the Fabella hospital remains silent on the matter.
Privatization of health services
Fabella is located within the Old Bilibid Compound, which was sold to the state-owned Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC) in 2007. In September 2015, the HGC directed the DOH to inform Fabella workers and patients that they will be claiming the Old Bilibid land to be developed for commercial purposes, according to Alliance of Health Workers Spokesperson Sean Herbert Verchez.
Health groups believe that the decision to demolish Fabella is another move to privatize health services in the country.
“Though the Aquino government and the DOH insist that this is not privatization, we believe that these projects are definitely under the general framework of the privatization policy in the guise of modernization, and would mean more expensive, unaffordable health services for the people,” according to the Save Fabella Hospital Movement.
The Aquino administration has forged several government partnerships with private entities, including the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center in 2013. The San Lazaro Hospital, National Center for Mental Health, Region 1 Medical Center, and Eastern Visayas Medical Center were also listed to be privatized within Aquino’s term, but did not materialize.
Should the demolition push through, patients will be transferred to the Philippine Blood Center which only has a 150-bed capacity, a big leap from Fabella’s 700-bed capacity.
Meanwhile, health workers will be temporarily transferred to the Philippine General Hospital, Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, and the Lung Center of the Philippines.
The health department has assured employees that they will be retained once the new 800-bed hospital within the DOH compound in Rizal Avenue, Manila is finished by 2017.
‘Paanakan ng Bayan’
Dubbed the “Paanakan ng Bayan (National Maternity Hospital),” Fabella accepts around 1,000 patients daily despite only having a 700-bed capacity. Its services are one of the cheapest in the country, with patients being allowed to waive their payment in cases when a social worker can confirm that they are indigents.
“Malaking tulong talaga ito sa mga mahirap, talagang minomonitor namin ang mga bata,” said Marlyn Dumandan, a nurse who has worked in the hospital for 12 years. (This is a big help to the poor because we really monitor the children.)
Health groups have been picketing in front of the Fabella hospital for two weeks now. On Wednesday, June 8, they sent a letter to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, asking him to support their cause. (READ: Health workers urge Duterte to stop ‘closure’ of Fabella hospital)
On Thursday, incoming Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo visited the protesting health workers to show support.
The health workers vowed to continue their protest until June 30, when Duterte’s term officially starts.
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the Fabella hospital for its techniques in newborn care, such as the Kangaroo Mother Care section where premature and underweight babies spend at least 18 hours strapped against their mothers’ breasts. These programs supposedly reduce infant mortality, which was recorded at 23 for every 1000 births in 2013. – With a report from Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler.com