IT WON’T come as a surprise if ECQ is extended in the NCR Plus Bubble. It’s not impossible amid the rapid rise of COVID-19 infections. Most hospitals are in full capacity, patients die helplessly in ambulances, barangay service vehicles, hospital corridors and parking lots. Majority of the infected and casualties are health frontliners.
To rub salt into the wound, healthcare workers are being attacked and stigmatized. They are being accused of spreading the virus. We know that the number of attacks on healthcare workers are under-reported due to a lack of robust monitoring of violence against health workers. In addition to the increased risk of contracting the virus due to a lack of protective equipment, they are facing physical violence and threats. Doctors and nurses are abused because people think they are the carriers of the virus or are blamed for their deceased one’s death and frontline staff are being pelted with stones, spat on, or forcefully evicted from their homes.
Let us lip and dedicate this prayer for these heroes and their safety, as well as their families particularly the front liners of the Rafael Lazatin Memorial Medical Center (RLMMC), also commonly known as Ospital Ning Angeles (ONA) and the City Health Office (CHO):
“Father in Heaven,we come to you with folded knees by the devastating effects the coronavirus has had on a global scale. And yet we know, as the Maker of this Universe, that you are always in control. Nothing surprises you, and you hold the world in your hands. Lord Jesus, we ask protection over our healthcare workers. Lord, please provide for their needs. We pray you protect them from COVID-19. We pray for their stress and energy levels, that you would fill them with your mighty strength and power. We pray for them and for their families. May you send your angels to guard and protect them. We pray they will choose to persist in their good work, be appreciated and respected for all they do. Lord, you are our refuge and strength. You are an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1) and we trust in your goodness and mercy. We pray COVID-19 will stop spreading. Lord, thank you for hearing their cries. We pray you will provide for them through this difficult time. We thank you for the vaccines developed with your guiding hands and we pray these vaccines will be available to all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
We have seen videos of people banging pots and pans, or expressing gratitude in other ways to encourage and celebrate healthcare workers and their service on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. They are heroes and they deserve all our support and praise.
According to the Angeles City Human Resources Management Office, the RLMMC personnel with Officer In Charge Dr. Froilan Canlas is composed of: Permanent – 113, Casual – 7, Contractual – 6 and Contract of Service – 365. While the City Health Office (CHO) personnel headed by Dr. Verona Guevarra are as follows: Permanent – 104, Casual – 20, Contract of Service – 252. The CHO has six main health centers: Rural Health Unit (RHU) 1 is located in Sto. Domingo, RHU 2 in Lourdes North West, RHU 3 in Lourdes Sur East, RHU 4 in Balibago, RHU 5 in Pandan and RHU 6 in Pulung Cacutud.
Angeles City Mayor Carmelo “Pogi” Lazatin Jr. has earmarked a total of P100 million in 2020 for the improvement of the RLMMC as it continues to battle the coronavirus disease. He said the hospital improvement aims to turn the center into a Level 2 facility with modern medical equipment, additional intensive care units, pediatric and gynecology services. He also appropriated a total of P88 million for the procurement of rapid testing kits, four ventilators, cardiac monitors, additional personal protective equipment (PPEs) and face masks. Lazatin also said some 111 nurses assigned at the RLMMC have received their P12,000 salary increase last January. From Salary Grade (SG) 11 – equivalent to P22,316 – were upgraded to SG 15, with a monthly basic salary of P33,575. Meanwhile, all 88 Contract Of Service (COS) nurses receiving P20,000 basic monthly salary (SG10) were raised to SG 15, amounting to P32,000. Mayor Lazatin’s Chief Adviser and Tactician Director IC Calaguas said this is pursuant to Republic Act No. 9173, or the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002. Last year, the city government had allocated P10 million for the immediate release of the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) for city health workers handling COVID-19 patients. The health workers received their SRA in October, amounting to 50% of their monthly salary.
Meanwhile, Lazatin said with or without the pandemic, it is essential for Angeles City to be known as the ‘Most Caring City’ under his watch such as the inception of the Puso Center. “It is a laudable hybrid facility to provide basic healthcare to Angeleños, especially the poorest of the poor where all medical and dental services are free of charge,” said Executive Assistant IV Reina Manuel.
Lazatin Jr. has oft-repeated that the 411,634 residents in the city will receive COVID-19 vaccines. The mayor issued the statement after receiving the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines from the Department of Health (DOH) last month. The beneficiaries for the said donated vaccines are the health workers from the private and public hospitals identified by the DOH. Almost 900 government healthcare workers in Pampanga were vaccinated with Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines recently in three government hospitals including Angeles City and another batch of 3,274 doses are expected to arrive in the coming weeks in the Jose B. Lingad Regional Hospital, City of San Fernando.
REAL LIFE HEROES BATTLING THE COVID-19
“Kuwento ng utol ko na nag-positive, ang pinaka-pagod, ‘yung mga medical personnel, ‘yung frontliners na nagdadala ng pagkain sa kanila sa isolation, ‘yung mga nagbabantay at natutulog na lang sa hagdan o sahig sa sobrang pagod. At di malaki sweldo ng mga ito kumpara sa ibang frontliners,” Winston narrates. I was privileged to encounter and hear stories from the health front liners of RLMMC and CHO. I felt their agonizing pain, their fear of sickness and death, but they wanted to become part of something bigger than themselves which is compassion and strength in their commitment to save lives. Obviously they are all having a tough time dealing with COVID-19. Although it is tiring and terrifying at the same time, they profess it is the life they have chosen. “I’m grateful and proud of my staff doing great service for the people despite having limited resources and the risks to themselves. Our purpose in life actually saves lives,” one doctor said.
“My role as a nurse in this time of the COVID-19 crisis is crucial. Since I’m working round the clock my life is at risk as I am exposed regularly,” Agnes said. As a mother and wife, she is also worried about the safety of her family every time she goes home from work. We avoid the usual hugs and kisses. Despite this, she continues to carry out her duties. “This is my way to help the Angelenos. More than ever, this is the time that we should do our job well — may it be as front liners, support staff, or ordinary citizens. Let’s do our part to fight COVID-19,” she said. Midwife Melanie has been working for nearly a decade but the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are nothing like the ones she has dealt with before. Mer works with vulnerable communities that are mostly in disadvantaged areas. “They currently face an incredible challenge in their lives right now. As a public health midwife, I’m here no matter what to help them,” she said. “Despite the risks to myself and my family, I couldn’t bear seeing my fellow Angelenos helpless,” Mer said. “If I don’t do my work, who will? I am an instrument to extend God’s grace through helping others in the area of health. I believe that by doing good to others, it will come back to you a hundred fold,” she said. Mer takes inspiration from her mother who is undergoing regular dialysis but keeps a strong mindset despite the situation. “Like my mother, the Angelenos will get through this,” she said. “I’m mindful of the dangers of my job, being the first to respond during a crisis, and the last to leave. But first, I’m a mother to my son. I always take extra precautionary measures when I’m out on the field, especially now with the unseen risk of COVID-19,” she said.
Together with his colleagues, Arthur has survived many high-risk emergencies in their work to provide urgent care and services to affected communities. “Together we’ve been there many times. More than ever, we are fortunate to be in the frontline despite the risk to our lives and our families. Not everyone has this opportunity to serve,” he said. “We should move together as one country, as one city. If your role is to stay at home, then please do it because you are helping the frontliners do their job easier,” Arthur said. Meanwhile, Joey has been working in public health for 20 years. Now, he is among at the forefront to stop the spread of the virus, especially among people with pre-existing conditions. “I’m always mindful of safety precautions because I also care for my three grandchildren at home. This fight is mainly for them so that when they are old enough to understand what had happened in 2020, they would recognize that their Lolo fought alongside the brave doctors, nurses, midwives and all health workers in Angeles City,” he said.