Bacolod City

Before September ends, Bacolod reaches most COVID-19 deaths in a month

Inday Espina-Varona
Before September ends, Bacolod reaches most COVID-19 deaths in a month

The Bacolod City Respiratory Center accepts walk-in residents who feel symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested.

City Emergency Operations Center

Across Western Visayas, local government units ask the DOH and the IATF to help with personnel woes and a dearth in medical oxygen supplies

COVID-19 deaths in Bacolod City in September 2021 have zoomed past the 18-month pandemic high recorded in the same month last year, City Administrator Em Ang told Rappler on September 22.

“As of today, we already have 86 covid deaths for the month of September alone, and we still have eight days left. The highest before that was 76 in Sept 2020 when we also had a surge. It looks very bad,” Ang said in a text message.

Bacolod had 83 new cases and 10 new deaths on September 21. The Emergency Operations Center said all new cases stemmed from local transmission. The city had 1,854 active cases, meaning people sick with COVID-19.

On September 21, Department of Health Western Visayas (Region 6) figures shared by the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital showed a critical health care utilization rate of more than 80% for the city. At least four of the seven hospitals here have stopped admitting COVID-19 patients, saying they have reached maximum capacity.

Negros Occidental’s hospital utilization rate, meanwhile, stood at 68%, helped by Governor Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson’s decision to dedicate one more hospital to COVID-19 cases. But infections continue to spread with the province breaching the 3,000 mark in total cases.

Lacson, who is on quarantine because of exposure to two COVID-19 positive mayors over the weekend, expressed worry for the 161 deaths recorded in the province for the month of September.

Bacolod has 21 local Delta variant cases, the CLMMRH said, while Negros Occidental province has 17.

Scramble for medical oxygen

Across Western Visayas, health facilities also warned that they were running low on medical oxygen supplies.

In Roxas City, provincial board members promised to use their discretionary fund, called assistance to indigents in crisis situations (AICS), and other budgets to help the Roxas Memorial Provincial Hospital purchase medical oxygen supplies.

Days after the hospital head Dr. Edmarie Tormon warned of a “time out” because of oxygen funding problems, five provincial board members re-aligned from P200,000 to more than P1.7 million each in AICS and maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budget.

They were also set to file a resolution to transfer around P13 million worth of funds to the beleaguered hospital.

The biggest chunk, they said, would be P10 million from Governor Esteban Contreras’ Financial Assistance During Crisis Situation fund. More than P2 million will come from the province’s Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office.

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas on September 17 sent an urgent appeal for medical oxygen supplies to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., Health Secretary Francisco Duque, National Task Force Chief Delfin Lorenzana, and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez.

He also called on Health undersecretary Leopoldo Vega to prod the Food and Drug Administration to give the West Visayas State University Medical Center oxygen plant a green light for operation.

He said the city’s hospitals’ severe and critical COVID-19 cases – more than 90% unvaccinated – are using up four times their average daily consumption of 657 cylinder tanks. Iloilo City has a 90% hospital utilization rate because it has the only intensive care units on Panay island.

The city, however, had some good news with a slight dip in cases from September 15 to 19. New cases slid from more than 150 to just 64 on September 22, according to its emergency operations center.

Unlikely Bacolod, Iloilo has managed to lower its death figures since the height of this year’s surge in June.

Ang confirmed a worsening medical oxygen supply problem in Bacolod.

“It’s not just Bacolod’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem,” she told Rappler.

“I am in constant communication with the owner of the oxygen plant here. May naga bakal pa diri tag gina dala sa Mindanao and sell it there for almost twice the price,” she said. (People from Mindanao will buy here and sell it for almost twice the price.)

“I told him to sell only to hospitals and individuals with medical certificates and doctor’s orders for oxygen therapy,” she said.

Otherwise, she added, the city’s three oxygen generating plants have enough supplies for local hospitals

Exodus of health workers

The challenges raised by officials are worsened by mounting staff problems in most of the city’s seven hospitals.

Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia reiterated the city’s appeal for more Department of Health support, including additional personnel for private hospitals hit with resignations due to medical frontliners’ anger over unfulfilled health promises.

Private hospitals and the city government have confirmed a medical workers alliance’s warning of a surge in resignations.

Leonardia in a statement on Tuesday, September 21, said even the city’s public health workforce was facing staffing problems. Earlier, The Doctors’ Hospital, a private facility, said it was scrambling to fill up emergency room posts.

On September 21, Rufo G. Gasapo, president of the Bacolod Adventist Medical Center confirmed Rappler’s story on the intense workload pressure that the pandemic has forced on medical frontliners.

Gasapo had earlier begged off from an interview due to many emergency meetings. His statement said: “Our healthcare team experienced extended hours at work, expanded nurse-patient ratio, and adjusted roles and responsibilities so we can continue to address the needs of our clients.”

“The turnover rate this year has greatly affected our personnel needs as employment opportunities opened both in our local government and hospitals abroad,” he said.

The hospital, he added, has initiated special care incentives, meal provisions, accommodations, psychological support, vaccination and coordinated quarantine for affected frontline workers.

The Dr. Pablo O. Torre Medical Center hinted at many nurses’ desire to leave the country with a new hiring ad.