Did Cavite hospital mishandle HTI fire victims?

Aika Rey
Did Cavite hospital mishandle HTI fire victims?
Cavite Governor Jesus Crispin Remulla says at least one fatality could have survived if he was transferred immediately to the Philippine General Hospital, which has a burn unit

MANILA, Philippines – A local hospital in General Trias, Cavite, may have mishandled victims of the fire that hit the House Technology Industries (HTI) compound in the province’s export processing zone, Governor Jesus Crispin Remulla quoted doctors from other hospitals.

During a recent press conference, where the preliminary report on the fire was presented by representatives of government agencies, Remulla said the Divine Grace Medical Center prevented those with serious injuries from being transferred to better facilities.

Of the 126 HTI workers who were injured, most were confined at the Divine Grace. The others were brought to 4 other hospitals within the province, and 2 hospitals in Manila. (LIST: Workers injured in Cavite export processing zone fire

As of February 10, 3 HTI workers who were earlier brought to Divine Grace Medical Center had died due to severe burn injuries.

“Those who died were initially in high spirits after the fire, but they were not handled properly,” Remulla said. Jerome Sismaet, the first confirmed fatality related to the fire, was reportedly positive he would get better, the governor recalled in a press conference on Monday, February 13. 

He said the management of Divine Grace Medical Center initially did not allow the victims to be transferred to hospitals with better burn units.

Remulla read aloud a text message from a surgeon in the Philippine General Hospital, who supposedly said the victims who were later transferred to PGH’s care were “poorly managed in Cavite.”

Another text message Remulla read stated that “relatives of the victims complained that it’s really hard to deal with private hospitals. Divine Grace Medical Hospital tried to prevent them from transferring.”

As of February 13, 24 HTI workers earlier brought to nearby hospitals remain confined. Some have been transferred to other facilities. 

Remulla also told Rappler that Divine Grace Medical Center took days to transfer patients to other hospitals. “Some beds in Jose Reyes’ emergency room were given to other patients because Divine Grace took days to transfer the victims,” he said in a phone call.

“They are not burn surgeons, but they insisted on treating the victims themselves. Hopefully makonsensya sila at ipadala na ang mga biktima sa ibang ospital (Hopefully they were bothered by their conscience and send the victims to other hospitals,),” said Remulla.

Divine Grace hospital responds

Dr Ismael Mercado of Divine Grace Medical Center (DGMC) denied that they prevented the patients from transferring to other hospitals. 

In a statement sent to Rappler on Tuesday afternoon, February 14, Mercado said they had been in touch with the provincial health office after stabilizing the patients brought to DGMC. 

He said they “convened all the patients’ relatives as early as the 3rd hospital day to relay the offer” of Governor Remulla to have the seriously injured transferred to the PGH, which has a burn unit. The consultation was done in the presence of HTI officers and company nurses, Mercado added.

However, no one wanted to be transferred at that time. As a hospital, we have to respect the patient’s choice. The only time we can overrule their choice is when the courts declare that the patient and his/her relatives are incompetent to make the right choice,” the DGMC doctor said.

On February 6 – or 5 days after the fire – Mercado said “3 patients signified their desire to be transferred,” and so the hospital “immediately coordinated with the provincial health officer.”

“No attempt was made on the part of the hospital management to prevent  them from being transferred to other hospitals,” he said.

Mercado also took exception to statements that DGMC has inadequate facilities and has no competent surgeons to treat fire victims. 

We agree that we have no burn unit, but there are no private hospitals that have burn units. Does that mean that all private hospitals should not accept burn patients? If we were inadequately prepared, how could we have successfully stabilized the severely burned patients?” he said.

The doctor also pointed out that DGMC “is staffed with board-certified fellows of the Philippine College of Surgeons, who are taking care of the patients as a team.” 

Back in 30 days

During Monday’s briefing, Department of Labor and Employment Region IV-A Director Zenaida Campita said HTI employees will be called back to work 30 days after the fire broke on February 1.

Workers will be absorbed by HTI’s sister companies in the Cavite export processing zone.

In the meantime, Campita said that employees will have to “time in and time out” every day to receive their wages.

The HTI management has committed to give medical assistance to those who were hospitalized, whether they were transferred to other hospitals. (READ: How one worker escaped the HTI fire in Cavite)

According to Campita, further medical costs will also be shouldered by the firm, if necessary.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority Deputy Director Justo Yusingco also said that the agency is closely monitoring the victims for financial assistance.

The labor and social welfare departments, as well as the provincial government, have pledged assistance to the victims

HTI is the biggest employer in the processing zone, with about 15,000 workers. It is also said to be the best, with housing benefits to senior employees.  Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.