Coronavirus patients sent home as PH hospitals reach limit

Rambo Talabong
Coronavirus patients sent home as PH hospitals reach limit
'In an ideal situation, all COVID positives should be in an institution, or institutionalized in a hospital, but the problem is that there's really a lack of bed spaces in all our hospitals now,' says Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte

MANILA, Philippines – As hospitals across Metro Manila are stretched to their limits, coronavirus-positive patients have been told to stay home.

In an interview with Rappler on Sunday, March 22, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said at least 3 Quezon City residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were asked by hospitals they turned to in different parts of Metro Manila to stay home.

“In the past, when you test positive, they pick you up, they take you in into a facility. But what happens now is that when you test positive, you’re just told that you just go home and you self-quarantine,” Belmonte said.

It’s not just Quezon City: The practice of sending coronavirus patients home is not just in Quezon City. Reading from their record of patients, Belmonte noted that of the 3 patients who were sent home in their city, two of them sought admission from a hospital in Manila and another hospital in Taguig.

“I am not saying that Quezon City is the one doing it, it is all over the country,” Belmonte said.

She explained that it was not a matter of national policy, but a need for hospitals to improvise given the lack of resources and manpower.

It’s not just 3: The 3 patients, Belmonte added, are not the only coronavirus-positive patients in Quezon City who have been asked to go home. They are only among a greater number of patients who were sent home.

Belmonte explained that the 3 are just the ones Quezon City sees as needing added attention as they live in urban poor communities, making their families and neighbors more vulnerable. Asked for a total number of patients sent home, she said they were still preparing their list.

These other people include a doctor, Belmonte said, and other professionals who live in more spacious homes and could afford to self-isolate while keeping their distance from their families and communities.

All these people who are sent home, the mayor said, are patients who do not have “serious cases” of the disease.

The barangay’s help: In a memorandum issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government in February, all barangays were told to set up isolation facilities for cases that need not immediately be admitted to hospitals for intense care.

But Belmonte said not all barangays have complied, and that their isolation facilities mostly can accommodate only one person.

“They have not had a time to partition. Ideally, they are separated there,” Belmonte noted.

What about the severe cases? Patients with severe cases, meanwhile, could not be taken in by local hospitals, because their medical staff have neither enough equipment, the proper training, nor the manpower for caring for patients in critical condition. Even national hospitals are already overwhelmed.

This results in the hospitals prioritizing critical patients and sending those who have milder symptoms home.

“Realistically [there is] no more space for them to be accommodated in all the national government hospitals and even in the local government hospitals, and therefore they are asked to go home with precautionary measures,” Belmonte said.

There is no extraction: Belmonte said the local government is not attempting to extract the 3 patients from their homes as they are not missing. Instead, they are enforcing their “extreme enhanced community quarantine” in their barangays.

This means that the houses of these coronavirus patients are tightly monitored by the government and Quezon City residents would not be allowed to come near.

Why does this matter? The problems of Quezon City, the biggest metropolis in Metro Manila, gives a dark snapshot at how the steep rise in cases is overwhelming hospitals, forcing frontliners to make high-stakes compromises like sending virus-positive people home. 

The situation in Quezon City echoes the problems faced by many cities across the globe from China to Italy where the coronavirus outbreak proved to be unbearable for their healthcare systems.

“In an ideal situation, all COVID positives should be in an institution, or institutionalized in a hospital, but the problem is that there’s really a lack of bed spaces in all our hospitals now,” Belmonte said. – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.