Fears abound in Orthopedic Center’s privatization

Jansen Romero
Will indigents still be able to afford services of the Philippine Orthopedic Center once it is privatized?

LONG CUE. Around 400-500 patients fill the corridors of the POC daily. All photos by Jansen Romero/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines — They say that an ailment afflicting the bones is one of the most piercing of pains. Aiding it requires rigorous treatment, devotion of time and money, faith and hope.

In the Philippines, there is only one public hospital where bone trauma and diseases are treated. Filipinos from all walks of life who are in need of ortho-medical attention go to the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) along Banawe in Quezon City.

The POC is known as the only tertiary hospital specializing on bone trauma and diseases. Its patients currently avail of free medicines, supplies, and therapy sessions. This is also where orthopedic patients from all over the country are being referred to.

Elma Borabo, a mother of a POC patient, shared their experience in a private orthopedic hospital. They needed to shell out at least P100,000 for a single operation of her daughter Chyra, who was a victim of a hit-and-run driver. They couldn’t afford the expenses which brought them to the public hospital.

Dito, ang binayaran lang namin ay yung bakal na ilalagay sa binti ng anak ko.” Chyra, taking up BS Education, needed to stop schooling for 9 months so she could recover.

As of posting, she roams the corridor of the hospital in her wheelchair with cemented legs. They have been staying at the hospital for almost two months already.

PATIENCE. Patients have to wait for at least 5 hours to get treatment.

 

Paeng Javier, who was there to cement his fractured arm, saw the upcoming privatization as being no different from the case of the MRT, which also had to be privatized.

 

Kapag naging pribado ito, magmahalMamahal yung singil pero yung pasilidad at serbisyo ganun pa rin,” Javier, who had been there for more than 6 hours, said. 

 

We’re in this together

 

Not only the patients and the patients’ families expressed their opposition to the pending privatization of the hospital, but also the medical staff, the nurses, and the doctors.

 

Ron Ron de Castro, who has been working at the hospital for almost 25 years, also believes that privatizing POC would not bring them any good.

 

Nakatagal akong 25 years dito, tapos ngayon pa ako mailalagay sa alanganin dahil sa privatization?” said De Castro, while fixing the small chairs used by patients as foot stools for cementing. (I stayed here for 25 years and then because of privatization, I’ll be put in an uncertain position?)

 

Kapag na-privatize na ito, siyempre mababago ang sistemasistema sa pagpili ng mga empleyado. Paano ako, 50 plus na sa tingin mo pipiliin pa nila ako ulit?” reasoned De Castro. (Once this is privatized, of course the system will be changed, including the system for choosing employees. How about me, I’m over 50, do you think they’d still choose me?)

SAVE POC. Signages of resistance against the privatization of the POC is visible all over the hospital premises.

According to former health secretary Enrique Ona, employees will have 3 options. First, they can continue working for the government in the New Rehabilitation Center. Or they can apply for a position in the privatized POC. While for those of a certain age like De Castro, they can choose early retirement.

National Orthopedic Hospital Workers Union-Alliance of Health Workers Union (NOHWU-AHW) president Sean Velchez believes that POC’s privatization will burden most of the patients.

Nagsisilbi kami para sa karamihan ng mga pasyente namin dito sa POC na karamihan ay mahihirap.” (We served for the majority of the patients here in POC who are poor.)

During the protest organized by the NOHWU-AHW last March 13, 2015, where medical staff, patients, and patients’ carers walked out to conduct a sit-in protest against privatization, Dr Jose Pujalte said they would not let the patients, especially the poor, be left alone, “We know your cry and we will not leave all the years in vain.”

Public-private partnership

In 2012, President Benigno Aquino III signed the P5.7-billion modernization plan of POC. In January 2013, a pre-bidding conference was held with 9 prospective bidders in attendance: Siemens Inc. – Health sector; GE Electric Philippines Inc; Sta. Clara International Corporation; Mount Grace Hospital Ventures; Philips Electronics and Lighting Inc.; Metro Pacific Investments; Megawide Engineering Excellence; Strategic Alliance Holding Inc; Nikkon Sekkei Inc/Data Trail Corporation.

In June of the same year, lone bidder Megawide Construction Corporation-World Citi Corp  submitted bid documents.

NEEDING MODERNIZATION. The POC is one of the flagship project that the government could not fund alone.

In 2010, Aquino launched the government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program, which was established as a flagship program aimed at funding big-ticket projects that the government could not fund alone.

The health department and Ona repeatedly emphasized they will assure the thousands of POC employees they will not lose their jobs.

Lives at stake

For 27-year-old orthopedic patient Michael Cuano, who has been in the hospital with his live-in partner caring for him for 7 months already, said the upcoming privatization is like a sickness waiting to happen and take lives. Michael benefits from the current system where the hospital shoulders almost all the financial load of class D patients.

Isipin mo ‘to, kapag lumabas kami dito halos wala kaming babayaran. Kapag may available na gamot, binibigyan kami ng hospital. Isipin mo na lang kung gaano kalaki babayaran naming kung nasa private kami.”

(Imagine that, if we were discharged from here, we would practically not have to pay for anything. When there’s available medicine, the hospital gives it to us. Imagine how much more we would have to pay if we were in a private hospital.) He fractured his spinal column and has to wear braces to support his back every time he stands from his bed.

Sa loob ng mahigit 70 na taon, maraming natulungan ang POC kaya naman sa privatization na itomaraming buhay ang nakataya,” Michael stressed. (In more than 70 years, POC has helped a lot of people. In this privatization, a lot of lives are at stake.)

MORE SUPPORT. Patients are wary that POC's free services will cease once the hospital is privitized.

Aside from the POC, the government has also lined up for public-private partnership or privatization these public hospitals: Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Fabella Hospital, San Lazaro Hospital, National Center for Mental Health, Region 1 Medical Center, and Eastern Visayas Medical Center. – Rappler.com