Zamboanga Del Norte

Zamboanga del Norte health workers, hospitals feel pressure as COVID-19 surges

Bert Laput
Zamboanga del Norte health workers, hospitals feel pressure as COVID-19 surges

Ambulances line up to Zamboanga del Norte Medical Center with its patients waiting to be accommodated.

In Dipolog City, desperation is in the air as ambulances from various towns queue outside Zamboanga del Norte Medical Center's emergency room

Zamboanga del Norte’s health care front liners and hospitals have started to feel the pressure as newly documented COVID-19 infections in the province surged to three-digit, single-day numbers.

The province’s COVID-19 task force counted 180 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, October 14. 

Only a day earlier, officials logged 122 new cases and 986 active cases throughout the province. A month ago, there were only 56 new cases and 596 active cases.

The number of deaths blamed on COVID-19 also increased from 232 deaths in September to 377 in the second week of October.

Officials blamed the increase on the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant that resulted in a runaway outbreak in the Zamboanga Peninsula region.

Until recently, the Zamboanga Peninsula was among the Mindanao regions with the least number of COVID-19 cases. It now ranks 4th in the list of regions classified as high-risk by the Department of Health (DOH).

As the cases significantly increased, the national government upgraded the province’s general community quarantine (GCQ) classification to the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) on the recommendation of the Zamboanga del Norte Interagency Task Force.

Officials said the cases have more than doubled in a matter of one month, overstretching the capacities of hospitals and exhausting physicians, nurses, and other health workers, especially at the Corazon C. Aquino Memorial Hospital (CCAMH), the Zamboanga del Norte Medical Center (ZNMC) in Dipolog City, and the Dr. Jose Rizal Memorial District Hospital (DJRMDH) in Dapitan City.

Outside the ZNMC in Dipolog City, desperation was in the air as ambulances from various towns queued outside the hospital’s emergency room, and many ailing people stayed in tents as they waited for their turn to be admitted. Others waited for vacancies in their cars and tricycles.

The Zamboanga del Norte task force said the stricter quarantine classification in the province would enable Level 1 hospitals like the CCAMH and DJRMDH to access PhilHealth services while they treat patients with moderate cases of COVID-19-pneumonia.

PhilHealth Advisory No. 2021-037 provides that Level 1 hospitals in areas under MECQ can avail of its services while they treat moderate COVID-19-pneumonia cases.

“Luoy kaayo atong mga pasyente nga pobre kay magbagood pa silag bayad sa (We pity the poor patients because they have to pay for their hospitalization),” said Dr. Esmeralda Nadela, provincial health officer and ZNMC chief.

Health officials and doctors said the situation worsened in the province because many people were stubborn and did not observe minimum health protocols.

They said ignorance and vaccine hesitation also factored in the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Philip Vargass Limsi, one of the province’s only two pulmonologists, said he was already tired of appealing to people to wear face masks and was disappointed with those who have continued to peddle COVID-19 misinformation.

“It is painful to hear people accusing us of making a killing out of the situation when we have just buried a fellow doctor,” said Limsi, referring to Dr. Henry Parojinog who died of complications due to COVID-19 early this month. –