State moves to hasten recovery of hospitals, health-care sector

Part One

THIS month the Philippine health sector would commemorate one of its heroes who passed away seven days after the declaration of martial law: Anastasia Giron Tupas.

The dean of Philippine Nursing would not have the opportunity on how her sectoral peers would become the most-needed worker in the world.

According to the latest report by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), a total of 12,082 professional nurses were deployed abroad in 2010. About 349 nursing personnel became overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), while 176 medical doctors left the country also that year.

Seventeen years later, the Department of Health (DOH) said the demand for nurses remain strong abroad. The demand has not helped the sector that, according to DOH chief Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial, is still witnessing a dearth in professional nurses.

According to Ubial, the public- health sector lacks 21,000 nurses and health professionals to provide medical
services to 105 million Filipinos across the country.

“But the Philippines has an oversupply of nurses and they prefer to work here if they are paid reasonably,” Ubial said.

Nursing numbers

CITING DOH data, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) said from 18,000 nurses employed by the government and 9,000 in private sector 10 years ago, the number ballooned to 42,000 employed nurses by the end of 2014. The PNA said the increase in the figure occurred sans an “increase in the number of plantilla items in the government and main health centers [where nurses are usually deployed] or any substantial increase in bed capacities of our hospital system.”

The increase in the figure in terms of headcount has seen a related increase in the size of a nurse’s take-home pay.

According to Ubial, the government is also trying its best to improve the salary and benefit packages for health professionals in the Philippines. The compensation package has increased “tremendously in the past five years,” she told the BusinessMirror.

Ubial’s statement was echoed by Health Assistant Secretary Elmer G. Punzalan. “Of course, we give incentives to our graduates and, of course, our DOH hospitals,” Punzalan said. “That incentive is to give them higher pay rather than [force them to go] abroad.”

Beds, RHUs

UBIAL also admitted that 45,000 additional hospital beds are need by the country, especially in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). There is also a need of more than 1,000 government and private hospitals.

Currently, there are 1,900 hospitals with a total of 82,000 beds in the government and private hospitals.

“We are short by 44,000 to 45,000 beds for a ratio of one bed for every 800 people,” Ubial said. “For the rest of the country, the situation is one bed per 2,500 people. The situation in Metro Manila is better compared to other regions with the ratio of one bed per 590.”

Likewise, the government has a shortage of rural health units (RHU) and health centers, “For every 20,000 people, we need at least one RHU,” she added. “Currently, there are 2,600 RHUs so there is a shortfall of 5,200 RHUs and health centers.”

Call-centered

ACCORDING to PNA, about 200,000 registered nurses were without jobs in 2015.

PNA, which was organized by Tupas in 1922, added that two yeas ago about 300,000 nurses “are deskilled because they are forced to accept non-nursing jobs in order to provide support for their families.”

Punzalan said the situation hasn’t changed as nursing graduates are being hired to work in business process
outsourcing firms.

“The hiring of nurses, especially in the US and other countries has lessened; most of our nursing students that have graduated are no longer admitted [to work in hospitals],” he explained. “So they go to call centers and other areas out of their specialization. But they have to earn their income so they prefer to go to call centers.” Punzalan said a nurse’s salary in a government hospital starts at P35,000 and P13,000 in private hospitals.

Compare that to the more than P20,000 they receive if they work in call centers,he said.

Supply, demand

PUNZALAN said the increase in demand for nurses followed the closure of nursing schools after the government applied changes in the basic education system.

“So now is the time we need nurses but there are few enrollees and graduates. As a result of what happened [K to 12] there is a surplus of nurses,” he said. “But now, I agree most of these nursing schools have closed down and usually there are nursing schools everywhere [before] but now we need nurses but there are few.”

Meanwhile, Ubial said she appreciates the interest of legislators on the plight of health workers, particularly nurses, many of whom remain unemployed or underemployed. “We should address the genuine underlying causes of the country’s health work-force problems,” she said in a statement.

“This gives the DOH an excellent opportunity to draw attention to the whole picture of the current situation.”

Ubial was referring to the Nurses Deployment Program (NDP), a project that the Aquino administration started in 2011 to address the salary problems plaguing the nursing sector. To be continued

 

Image Credits: Nonoy Lacza

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