Reginal Soriano, the COVID-19 patient who won a reprieve on the high price of isolation, said his wife and son were transferred to a new isolation facility and forced to undergo a new round of 11-day quarantine.
Soriano’s 43-year-old wife and 12-year-old son were transferred from the O Garden Hotel in Angeles City to an isolation facility in Mexico, Pampanga, on September 16, two days before they were scheduled to end their quarantine, he told Rappler on Wednesday.
They had entered the Angeles facility on September 6, two days after Soriano also tested positive for COVID-19.
Soriano said his wife was told the transfer order came from Angeles City Mayor Carmelo Lazatin Jr.
Soriano had initially asked the Angeles City government for a free isolation room. He challenged the P24,000 bill, which included the P5,000 deposit he paid for on his second day. He was able to get a waiver for the other fees but was still waiting for reimbursement of his deposit.
An ambulance took his wife and son from the Angeles hotel and brought them first to the Rafael Lazatin Memorial Medical Center for a health assessment. They arrived at the Mexico isolation facility around midnight, he said.
"My wife didn't want to be transferred anymore. They were only told that it was the mayor who ordered their transfer to Mexico,” Soriano said.
“She only found out that they needed to have another 11-day quarantine period upon arriving at the facility. That was why she went hysterical there," he added.
Despite no longer having symptoms, mother and son stayed in isolation for another 11 days until September 27.
Staff at the facility cited the provincial government’s policy that any patient entering the facility must complete the quarantine period.
Soriano was advised to get a medical quarantine certificate from the RLMMC and the rural health office in Mexico to process the early release of his family. He said the process would take a long time and so the family decided to wait for September 27. His wife and son were not charged for the medical assessment and their stay in the Mexico facility.
Angeles City chief adviser IC Calaguas, in an interview with Rappler on Wednesday, September 29, said the transfer was because his wife insisted on other demands.
"Their request was to be transferred to an indigent room. So we transferred them (wife and son) to an indigent room in the same hotel. But they were still complaining relentlessly, such as they can't breathe, etc. So we decided to transfer them to an isolation facility in Mexico under the provincial government," Calaguas said.
She said patients must follow the provincial government and local government's COVID-19 quarantine policies, such as the health assessment prior to the transfer.
"That is the requirement of Mexico, protocol of the provincial government. They should have an x-ray, blood chemistry before they will take in the patient," she said.
Calaguas also said other patients have been requesting specific demands, which the LGU tries to meet.
“In fact, we transferred a patient from the second floor to the ground floor because of the request for a high speed internet,” she said.
“Those irate and rude patients are being transferred to Mexico as those facilities have stricter rules than us. We also don't have control on that matter because those are controlled by the provincial government," said Calaguas.
The Department of Health and Department of Interior and Local Government joint administrative order, entitled "Guidelines on local isolation and general treatment areas for COVID-19 cases (LIGTAS COVID) and the community-based management of mild COVID-19 cases," is silent on extended quarantine period nor does it lists regulations for the transfer COVID-19 patients to other similar facilities.
Rappler tried to get a statement from DOH Central Luzon on the gray area of the LIGTAS COVID guidelines. The DOH-CL health promotion service said they had close coordination with the Angeles City LGU and would respond to Rappler after consultation. It later referred Rappler to the city’s position.
Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association former president Dr. Jojo Carabeo urged LGUs to show compassion towards patients.
"We know that it is the LGU at the forefront of the management of the isolation facilities but the patients should also be reminded that it should be a place of wellness rather than a place of additional stress," said Carabeo.
"If their reason is that they can't handle the patients with just two days remaining and if their complaints are valid, because they are supposedly sick, they must have extended compassion to understand their needs. The quarantine or isolation facility should not just be a place for limitation of movement but also a center for wellness so that they can recover," Carabeo added.
Carabeo questioned the process of extending the quarantine, especially the health assessment.
“They should have checked on site before leaving the hotel, rather than going to the hospital before they were transferred to the provincial isolation facility, especially if the patients do not show any more symptoms. This can be an added risk in exposing the patients again to the virus," Carabeo added.
Soriano, who wasn't able to get his refund his P5,000 deposit, still plans to go to government agencies to file appropriate charges once his family has settled at home from their quarantine period. – Rappler.com
Joann Manabat is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.