Private hospitals could close down if forced to grant benefits to frontliners

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 15) — Private hospitals are in danger of closing down once mandated to grant hazard pay, and other means of compensation to their health workers, an association of private health institutions bared Wednesday.

"Employers [must also be considered] in additional costs for these benefits. Hospitals have been experiencing huge losses since the pandemic took place," said Ritchie Lirio, corporate secretary and board member of the Private Hospital Association of the Philippines, Inc.

The health and COVID-19 response cluster of the House Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee tackled the provision of special protection and benefits for health workers during the pandemic — but this raised concern among private institutions in shouldering additional costs amid financial losses.

"The national average occupancy rate is about 30-35% for all hospitals. The business is not as robust than the previous months or years," Lirio added.

Dr. Jaime Almora of the Philippine Hospitals Association also noted that during the pandemic, private hospitals are "similarly victimized" by the downturn of economic activities.

"There is a 50-percent decrease in revenues because of decrease in inpatient and outpatient census, significant increase in expenses especially in COVID centers, and other financial difficulties," Almora said.

"Once granted hazard pay, this may cause collapse of some hospitals...It will totally remove sources of livelihood....if spent on hazard pay and risk allowances," he added.

The health cluster of the House Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee is set to form a technical working group to further discuss these concerns not covered by measures up for consolidation.

At least nine House bills seeking to protect the welfare of frontliners by granting them hazard pay, special risk allowance, medical coverage, and even burial assistance to the families of those who succumbed to the virus are tabled for deliberation. Meanwhile, seven House resolutions seek to express"the highest appreciation" and gratitude to all health workers for their service.

The Filipino Nurses United also appealed that health workers must also be provided sufficient protective gear, mandatory quarantine period, necessary flu vaccines, and yearly mental health leaves, among others.

Robert Mendoza of the Alliance of Health Workers said that nurses and staff in some hospitals have been experiencing fatigue, psychological burnout, while some have been feeling "demoralized due to insufficient benefits" amid the crisis.

"We do not see concrete measures from DOH (Department of Health) to protect those who risk their lives in battling this unforeseen enemy," he said.

The DOH said Tuesday that private hospitals have shown only a nine-percent compliance rate out of the mandated allocation for COVID-19 beds amid surge in infections. At least four major hospitals in Metro Manila have already reached full capacity for infected patients.

There were 35,483 reported COVID-19 cases in the country. A total of 20,459 have recovered while 1,603 died of the disease to date.