Citizen sounds alarm over dirty QC quarantine facility

MANILA, Philippines – A resident of Quezon City sounded the alarm on Thursday, April 23, over dirty bathrooms and unclear implementation of handling suspected novel coronavirus patients in the city.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte responded with a promise to improve quarantine facilities and patient management protocols.

The resident, Mark Anthony Toldo, told of his experience of being admitted into Quezon City's Hope 2 facility. The facility is for suspected COVID-19 cases waiting for their test results and confirmed COVID-19 patients.

In a letter to Belmonte dated April 23, Toldo shared his dismay over dirty shared bathrooms and confusing implementation of procedures for suspected cases.

"All of us, patients, on the ground floor shared two poorly-maintained restrooms – serving both as toilet, urinal, and bathroom – that were untidy and constantly wet," he said in his letter, which he also sent to Rappler.

Below are photos he included in his letter to Belmonte:

Photo by Mark Anthony Toldo
Photo by Mark Anthony Toldo
Photo by Mark Anthony Toldo
Photo by Mark Anthony Toldo

He said he had also been asked to stay in an "uncomfortable room ridden with large mosquitoes" with another patient suspected of having the virus. Rooms nearby contained "6 to 8" people.

But what frustrated Toldo more was that he should not have been in the facility in the first place. The Department of Health has said that persons feeling only mild symptoms of COVID-19 and have spacious houses can choose to self-quarantine at home, even while waiting for test results.

Stressful night in quarantine

Toldo first felt symptoms – body pains, cough, colds, dry throat, and headache – on April 1. Sixteen days later, he was at the Hope 2 facility, after getting a swab test at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, where some of the city's testing booths were located.

He was then officially labeled a "person under investigation" (PUI). He was first brought to the Hope 1 facility but, after some confusion, wound up in Hope 2.

He asked personnel if he could just quarantine in his own home given the nature of his symptoms and the fact that he lived alone in a condominium with responsive management staff.

Toldo had another reason for wanting to stay home – a history of depression. He believed he could best manage his medication for his depression and his coronavirus-like symptoms at home.

"If I was admitted to an unsafe facility, I could develop anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks – something that would be unforgivable if anyone would cause me to experience those again after managing to recover from it at a high cost," said Toldo in his letter.

But the Hope 2 facility personnel denied his request. Staff from the testing center also told him he was "safer" in the Hope 2 facility than in his house.

He spent one night in the facility with another patient who was also worried about how safe they were there. 

Toldo was also concerned about the facility's common areas, like the "narrow hallways" where patients came and went. Common areas did not have bottles of alcohol to encourage disinfection.

Patients like him did not have continued access to water. They were limited to the bottles of water that came with their 3 meals. 

Early the next morning, Toldo was brought back to his condominium by a barangay ambulance.

Based on his brief stay at Hope 2, Toldo worries that persons who get tested for COVID-19 but are actually negative for the virus could still get sick because of the state of the facility.

Belmonte responds

Two hours after reading Toldo's letter, Belmonte responded with a promise to improve the Hope 2 facilities and the process by which patients are handled.

"We regret Mr Toldo's unfortunate experience.... We would like to reassure Mr Toldo and the public that this is by no means the kind of service we envision to provide and we agree with Mr Toldo that persons in our care deserve a much higher quality of service," said Belmonte in a message to Rappler.

She directed an inquiry be made into the concerns Toldo raised. She also directed managers of the Hope 2 facility to "immediately make the necessary improvements" on how patients are admitted, sanitation, and coordination among different response units.

Quezon City is the most populated city in Metro Manila, the region most hard-hit by the novel coronavirus. Quezon City, home to 3 million Filipinos, has the highest number of positive infections in the capital region, with a total of 1,072 cases as of April 22. 

The number of Quezon City's "active" cases – patients who have not yet recovered or died from the disease – is at 550. There have been 101 fatalities and 112 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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