Bacolod City

Bacolod health workers threaten resignation over slow risk pay delivery

Inday Espina-Varona
Bacolod health workers threaten resignation over slow risk pay delivery

Healthcare workers of University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital stage a protest during lunch break on August 26, 2021, to call for mass hiring of health workers and to demand claim for unpaid benefits such as the special risk allowance. Rappler

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The healthcare workers are also complaining about their overstretched working hours

More than 300 medical workers in this city have quit their jobs since March 2020 when COVID-19 started infecting Filipinos, an alliance of health professionals said on September 16.

Noli Rosales, one of the convenors of the Medical Front Liners Alliance of Negros (MFLAN), told Rappler many more health frontliners could hand in resignations within the next days to protest late and unequal payment of their special risk allowance (SRA).

“Many say ‘tama na, sobra na’ (that’s enough, this is too much),” Rosales told Rappler.

They will hold a press briefing on Friday, September 17, to bare more details of their hardships and demand the release to private sector health workers of the SRA.

Among the complaints, Rosales said in a phone interview, were work hours that have lengthened from eight to 12 hours, “and sometimes up to 16 hours.”

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Most of the disgruntled health workers come from private hospitals though some also work in government health facilities, Rosales said.

The Negros Occidental provincial health office in August announced payment of P30 million to hospitals managed by the province and P4 million to workers under the provincial health office.

But SRA pay for health personnel in private hospitals is just trickling in.

Everyone exposed

The  unrest stems from guidelines that state only direct COVID-19 duty would be covered by the SRA, Rosales said.

That rankles many health workers in this city, where government and private hospitals have closed even non-COVID departments due to infections among personnel.

Rosales pointed out that many health workers are at risk just by reporting to jobs in health facilities.

“Take the orderlies,” he pointed out. “They are actually the first exposed to COVID-19 because they are the first ones to aid patients coming into emergency rooms and hospital wards,” Rosales said in a mix of Ilonggo, Filipino and English.

“So many of them did not get the SRA and they face great risks. They are also the least paid among health personnel,” he added.

Bacolod City Administrator Em Ang told Rappler on September 15 that infections among staff could be a reason for the limited hospital capacity. 

“Some hospitals do not disclose the number of HCWs that are infected,” she said. “But yes, several nurses, doctors and other health workers have tested positive lately. In one hospital, seven med techs tested positive.”

The Negros Occidental provincial government also said many medical workers were confined to the isolation center for state employees at the Mambukal mountain resort. 

Staffing crisis

The coming resignations could worsen health utilization capacity rates in Bacolod, which is already considered high-risk.

The Bacolod Emergency Operations Center (EOC) reported on September 15  a 91.51% utilization rate for regular COVID beds in government hospitals and 85.71% for intensive care unit COVID beds on September 14. Private hospitals’ utilization rate for regular COVID beds was at 86.81% and 91.6% for ICU COVID beds.

Four of seven hospitals in this city have announced a halt to admissions for their COVID-19 wards.

At least two hospitals have also stopped accepting patients in obstetrics and pediatric wards, two areas that have seen a rise in COVID-19 infections over the last few months.

The head of the province’s largest COVID-19 hospital said at least three newborns there have died since June.

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At least one hospital, the Dr. Pablo O. Torre Memorial Hospital, published a hiring notice on September 14, promising registered nurses that they could “apply and get hired on the same day.”

The facility also said it was hiring pharmacists and medical technologists.

Unequal pay

There are also many complaints about unequal allowance payouts even among those directly serving in COVID-19 wards.

“One staff nurse received only P227, another P600,” said Rosales.

“Then they learn that some who work in offices have received P10,000 or more,” he added.

He said nurses were also demanding other “promised” benefits like meal, transport and accommodation subsidies.

The same complaints were raised by health workers in the National Capital Region last month.

Health frontliners are also set to join September 21 protests that also tackle poor work conditions and corruption in the health sector, including the purchase of  billions of pesos worth of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment. – Rappler.com