ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Nurses working in the hospital where Iloilo's first coronavirus patient was confined are being shunned by local stores, boarding houses, and even their own barangays and homes.
The chief of the hospital where the patient was admitted confirmed stories circulating on social media that their staff members were experiencing discrimination not only in business establishments but also in their own communities and homes.
“We didn’t expect this to happen,” Dr Felix Ray Villa, chief executive officer of Medical City Iloilo, told Rappler.
“We’ve had around 50 staff members report back to us saying that after heading home, they werent allowed entry into their boarding house, they were barred from their barangays. They even had a difficult time going home because of the transportation situation, and on top of that, not allowed to enter their own homes," Villa added.
Villa expressed dismay over the discrimination faced by their frontliners, considering their sacrifices. (READ: Left in the dark: Little protection for government's coronavirus frontliners)
“It’s really disheartening seeing our staff being discriminated against despite their service and sacrifice,” Villa told Rappler.
“The scary thing is, if this happens to us, it could happen to other hospitals as well. This really is no time for discrimination, our frontliners are our last soldiers in this battle against COVID-19; without them we’d be left defenseless,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.
The first COVID-19 case in the province was reported on Saturday, March 21 – a 65-year-old with no travel history to countries and Philippine cities already with coronavirus cases. (READ: Iloilo records 1st coronavirus case)
Photo from Medical City Iloilo
Medical City Iloilo assured the community that it had been following proper quarantine and containment procedures in February, or weeks before it admitted the COVID-19 patient in March.
“Our quarantine protocols have already been in place even before this positive result. We have taken each possible precaution to make sure that this is contained. There is no cause for panic as the proper protocols have been observed and followed,” the hospital said in a statement.
The precautionary measures include a "no visitor" policy, a single entry way for patients, and the strict assessment of the health condition and travel history of all those who enter TMCI – as well as separate help desk for persons under investigation (PUIs) and patients under monitoring (PUMs).
Villa said the hospital has over 500 employees, at least 300 of them handling PUIs and PUMs. The nurse-to-patient ratio is one-to-one for all PUIs and PUMs, to minimize contact with vulnerable patients.
“Our frontliners are our frontliners because they have the willingness to do so. We did not even force our people to handle these sensitive patients, we asked them who wanted to volunteer to care for these PUIs and PUMs, and a lot of our staff raised their hand. We all know the risk and sacrifice this time will take,” he said.
Villa said he was especially proud of the nurses who showed "no fear or signs of panic" when the first coronavirus case was confirmed.
“This is largely because we all know we’ve been operating effectively. They know they can trust our system; they know they can trust each other. We’ve done everything to fully mitigate and prevent the spread of the infection. We won’t leave anyone behind, together us Ilonggos can get through this tough time," he said.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas, who also received the reports of discrimination against the hospital workers, reminded business establishments of the important role of the medical workers in public health.
“I have been receiving messages today that our fellow Ilonggos who are in the medical field are discriminated. Buses reject them, carinderias won’t sell to them, their landlords evicted them. We should not allow this to happen," he said.
“Please keep in mind that if they cannot eat or sleep well, they cannot go to work. Who will take care of you if you will be infected? Would you also want them to treat you the same?” Treñas added.
The mayor designated an area in Iloilo City College, also in Molo district and just walking distance to Medical City Iloilo, as temporary dormitories for all medical staff in the city who have no place to stay.
Local hotels have lent their beddings, pillows, and blankets for use in the dorms, and donated toiletries as well.
The mayor said the temporary dorm can host up to 72 workers and is open to staff of all major hospitals of the city. The city government will also provide transportation for them.
Villa thanked Treñas and also private individuals who have offered to help their staff.
"We’ve also been overwhelmed and swamped because of the outpouring of support we are getting from the Ilonggos and private individuals who want to help us. A handful of people have even offered their own unoccupied apartments in the city for the use of our staff members,” he said.