Children’s Hospital Next In Line For Privatization?

by Anne Marxze D. Umil

MANILA – Reagan Tero, seven years old, has been a patient of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) for the past four years. He was diagnosed with Nephrotic syndrome when he was one year old.

His mother Robelita, 47, said the PCMC is the only hospital where they could go to for affordable services. “There are discounts for laboratory procedures that we could avail of. The medicine here is also cheap compared to the pharmacies outside PCMC. His antibiotics are sold here for P78 ($1.79) each, outside it costs P145 ($3.32),” Robelita said in an interview with this reporter.

 

Nephrotic syndrome according to www.healthcommunities.com is a condition that is often caused by any group of diseases that damages the kidney’s filtering system.

Arsenio Cruz III or Thirdy, four years old had ALL or acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her mother, Mary Jane, 37 said the PCMC has helped in his son’s medication. “Laboratories are usually discounted. Medicines needed for chemotherapy is also donated.”

Both Mary Jane and Robelita’s children will be affected once the PCMC is transferred to the compound of the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP). The PCMC is located at the corner of Quezon Avenue and Agham Road in Quezon City.

The PCMC caters to around 80,000 out-patients and 55,000 admissions every year. The hospital is also considered as the biggest tertiary child care center in the country under the Department of Health (DOH). It accommodates and specializes in cancer and infectious diseases affecting children. Sixty percent of the hospital’s patients are indigent and only 40 percent are pay patients.

Jara Corazon Ehera PCMC Deputy Director for Hospital Services said moving the hospital to another location will not only disrupt its operations, it will also be risky to patients.

It was in September 2013 when the National Housing Authority (NHA) gave PCMC a notice to buy the 3.7 hectare land where the hospital stood on for the last 34 years. The hospital instead demanded that the land be donated to them.

Ehera said the PCMC has been asking the government way back in 1985 to donate or finance the transfer of the title to the hospital. However, she said, for some unknown reasons, different presidents have come and go but the title of the land has not yet been transferred to the PCMC.

Modernizing PCMC

Ehera said in a press conference, June 9, that Health Secretary Enrique Ona told them that in order to modernize the PCMC, the government would have to transfer the hospital to the compound of the LCP.

“We asked if the PCMC will have 3.7 hectares, same size here where the hospital is currently located. He didn’t answer; he just told us that a high rise building will be constructed to house the PCMC,” Ehera said.

She said a pediatric hospital like the PCMC could not operate in a high rise building. “It would be very difficult to evacuate sick children during times of emergency.” She pointed out that the hospital can be modernized even if it is in its current location. “We can modernize here, not in the Lung Center area.

Ehera also said in a tentative budget hearing with the Department of Budget and Management that they were told that the disposition of the land where the PCMC is currently located is already a done deal. “We learned that a deal has been made between the secretaries of health, DBM and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes (PCSO) to purchase the land of the PCMC so that there will be funds for the construction of the high rise building to be built in LCP area. We were shocked because we were never consulted about it.”

But when former PCSO chairwoman Margarita Juico resigned, Ehera said, the deal was also gone. A new development reached them that the DBM has already allotted P1.4 billion ($32 million) to purchase the land. However, Ehera said, Secretary Ona, who is the chairman of PCMC’s Board of Trustees, still has not endorsed the purchase of the land. “Ona said he will use the said funds to build the high rise building of PCMC in the Lung center area.”

Ehera said they once again pleaded to the DOH to purchase the land first before they push through with any planned development. “We already have a development plan for the PCMC. We just need the title of this land before we push through with our development plan.”

Ehera said in the development plan, there will be five structures, one building dedicated to cancer, another for rehabilitation medicine for adolescents, one for high risk pregnant women, a construction of a building for lung, heart, kidney and ear illnesses, a hospital dedicated to Philhealth members and children of overseas Filipino workers.

The development plan was shown to Ona, said Ehera. “It seems that he was convinced by the plan and we were told to submit the costing of the PCMC development plan on June 18.”

In an interview with this reporter, Ehera assured that they will stay committed to service the 60 percent indigent patients should the development plan push through.

Money, not a problem

Former Kabataan Partylist representative and current chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Metro Manila Raymond Palatino said money should not be a problem in purchasing the land where the PCMC is located. “The government has money; the problem here is the government’s priorities, ”Palatino pointed out that the government can realign funds from one agency to another.

He also said that once the Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the PCMC could lobby to utilize part of the P1 trillion ($22.904 billion) under the DAP to purchase the land for PCMC.

Palatino also said there are many idle assets in Quezon City, “Why not buy those? In my opinion, the DBM and the DOH are assuming that this land is not productive because it is not earning profits. But this is not a waste of public money because this is a public service and poor patients benefit from it.”

Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Emmi De Jesus said the budget allocation for land and other maintenance and operating expenses of the PCMC must be given immediately as treatment and care of pediatric cases deserve the government’s top priority.

De Jesus noted that billions are already being spent on hidden pork barrel allocations and the new US military bases, while public hospitals are being deprived of funds and sold off by the Aquino government to profiteering investors.

“The PCMC should serve as an icon of children’s health. This is the only tertiary hospital in the country that specializes in diseases afflicting children that is affordable for the poor,” said Gabriela Women’s Partylist Emmi De Jesus.

#SavePCMC

The #SavePCMC alliance, which is being led by children’s rights group Akap Bata, was also launched to support the call against transferring PCMC to the LCP compound. The alliance is composed of different organizations like Salinlahi Alliance for children’s concern, Kadamay, Network Oppose to Privatization among others.

Akap Bata spokeswoman and convener of the #SavePCMC alliance Anna Saplor said the DOH’s plan to transfer the PCMC will reduce the beneficiaries of PCMC and will limit the services that the hospital can offer because it will be transferred to a much smaller area. She added that the LCP is not a safe place for sick children as this will widen their vulnerability to various communicable diseases.

Palatino said the DOH, DBM and Malacañang should be transparent regarding its plan on the land where the PCMC stands. “If they plan to put up a public service facility, the PCMC is already a public service facility. If they plan to put a commercial center then they should tell the public now. As of now, we see no reason why the PCMC should be transferred.”

“We strongly demand from our government to spare the PCMC and the health care services for children in general out of its privatization scheme menu. Instead of pushing for the Public-Private Partnership project, the Aquino government must prioritize and allocate greater subsidy to PCMC and similar public hospitals for children and the people,” Saplor said. (Bulatlat.com)

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