By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Manila – A lawmaker and a labor center are protesting against the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) call to licensed nurses, nursing graduates, and other jobseekers with healthcare backgrounds to consider the array of non-clinical, yet, medical-related job opportunities as alternate careers in the healthcare industry. DOLE secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said nurses who are having difficulty finding employment should consider applying at business process outsourcing (BPO) companies or the so-called call-centers.
“After failing to find jobs for nurses abroad, the government now wants them to work as call center agents. From nursing volunteers to domestic helpers to call center agents, what’s next for Filipino nurses? This clearly shows the government’s lack of a comprehensive employment plan for graduates,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus.
Earlier, the DOLE cited a report of the Bureau of Local Employment (BLE) stating that the knowledge process oustourcing sector as one of the fast-growing sectors and that it has “fast-growing and innovative trends and advancements in the healthcare industry.” The BLE said that jobless nurses should go out-of-the-box, beyond the traditional clinical jobs, and explore other emerging medical and health-related careers.
“With the growth trend in the healthcare information management outsourcing industry, healthcare careers now expand into various disciplines which opens huge career opportunities for nursing graduates and allied medical professionals,” Baldoz said.
The Career Guides posted at the BLE website at cites healthcare knowledge process outsourcing careers, such as clinical research associates and clinical appeals specialists.
Citing the BLE Career Guides, Baldoz also said healthcare outsourcing jobs pay P14,000 ($325) to P18,000 ($418), while clinical appeals specialists employed in the BPO industry receive a basic pay of P20,000 ($ 465) to P40,000 ($930).
“The salary in these alternate medical careers is double the average monthly salary of P10,000 ($233) received by nurses working in hospitals and private institutions.” Baldoz said.
“Beyond the higher pay, considering these medical-related careers as employment alternatives is a ‘win-win’ solution for jobseekers in the healthcare industry. These jobs, alongside with constant re-tooling and re-training, add to their educational expertise which will increase and broaden their competencies as they venture to their dream medical profession in the future,” Baldoz said.
The DOLE also has its own Project Entreprenurse, a project that seeks to transform nurses into entrepreneurs supposedly providing healthcare services in communities.
An initiative of DOLE and other government and non-government entities, Project Entreprenurse pushes for nurse entrepreneurship by introducing a home health care industry in the country. In it, jobless nurses are being organized into cooperatives, whose main purpose is to deliver home health care services to its own members and members of HMOs, Philhealth members and self-paying members. The goal is to secure at least 500 members per cooperative for a city and at least 1,000 members for a province.
According to the DOLE, the project strategy is to encourage nurses to form cooperatives and manage nurses’ clinics, under the supervision of trained and experienced nurses. The newly licensed nurses will be deployed to poor rural communities, and the services they give will be supposedly compensated by local government units, Philhealth, HMOs, and finally by the patients themselves on a per visit basis.
A similar effort of the non-government organization Nurses Vox Healtcare Coop Philippines to provide alternative sources of income for nurses through Project HOPE (Hastening Options for Productivity and Employment) that also has the same goals as the DOLE’s project.
What about employing nurses for public hospitals?
For all of the labor official’s attempts at explaining, however, the GWP lawmaker remains unconvinced.
“I have nothing against people who work in call centers, and I am sure that there are nurses who work in that industry. But unashamedly telling all the nurses to work there instead of offering jobs for them in public hospitals and other health institutions is clearly negating the government’s responsibility to create jobs for the graduates, and turning its back on its responsibility to deliver quality health care services for the Filipinos,” De Jesus said.
According to DOLE reports, the Philippines has one of the worst health manpower to population ratio in Asia. In 1999, the ratio was of one doctor per 9,689 population. This was only slightly better than Cambodia’s 9,997, but lower than Indonesia’s 6,195, Thailand’s 3,670, Myanmar’s 3,291, Vietnam’s 2,122, Malaysia’s 1,465 and Singapore’s 731.
The situation in the regions is particularly alarming. In Region 11, the ratio of public health manpower to population is worse. As of 2010, Compostela Valley has only one government doctor for every 49,666 population and one government nurse for every 40,353. Davao del Norte has one doctor for every 53,924 and one nurse for every 27,832. Davao del Sur has one doctor for every 49,189 and one nurse for every 32,793; Davao City, the regional center, has one doctor for every 73,484 and one nurse for every 39,891.
The Gabriela solon also noted that the growing number of unemployed nurses is the result of the government’s labor export policy.
“On the other hand, when the demand for Filipino nurses abroad goes down, the government tells our nurses to to work in the BPO industry. Nurses should not be viewed as commodities in the government’s labor export policy. The local health system continues to be in dire need of nursing services. The World Health Organization recommends an ideal nursing professional to patient ratio of 1:10, but the actual ratio in the Philippine health care system is 1 nurse for every 16,000 Filipinos,” she said.
De Jesus said that the government should stop treating the country’s nurses as if they were disposable commodities.
“They should be considered as partners in the development of a truly responsive health care system. The government should allot funds for the public health budget and hire them for public service,” she said.
In the meantime, the Health Alliance for Democracy has decried how the Aquino administration’s allocations for public health remains tragically low. According to the advocacy group, the 2012 health budget is way below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation that five percent of gross national product (GNP) should be allotted for health. This makes the necessary amount to be P440 billion ($10.2 billion) given the latest GNP figures. The group has also challenged the Aquino government to stop the cuts in subsidies for social services. It called for a P90-billion ($2.09 billion) health budget “to ease the greater inaccessibility of health care and to address the immediate needs of health workers in salaries and benefits.”
The Department of Health is also taking part of the administration’s public-private partnership schemes. Health secretary Enrique Ona has committed to secure P3 billion ($69 million) for the PPP scheme in 25 regional hospitals. Critics say that all this means is intensified privatization of public hospital services and less accessible, more expensive public hospital and medical treatment rates for the public.
No sustainable employment plan
The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) also said the DOLE’s alternative for nurses also betrays the government’s lack of a comprehensive and sustainable employment plan.
“Baldoz’s call shows that the Aquino government only has an ad hoc employment plan, not a comprehensive and sustainable one. After deliberately creating a glut of nursing graduates who failed to find jobs abroad, the government is now calling on nurses to apply for the limited number of jobs in the BPO industry,” said KMU chairman Elmer Labog.
Labog said that even without Baldoz’ advice, it was likely that many unemployed nurses already applied for jobs in the BPO industry but failed to land jobs.
“It’s not as if there’s an abundance of employment opportunities in the BPO industry and jobless nurses have simply failed to take notice,” he added, questioning the number of available jobs in the BPO industry.
Labog pointed out that the DOLE’s call shows the folly of the Aquino government’s employment plan, which is geared at serving the demands of the foreign market and not the interests of Filipinos.
“The majority of our people badly need healthcare and unemployed nurses can be employed to meet this need. The Aquino government, instead of trying to meet the needs of our people, wants jobless nurses to meet the needs of the market dominated by big foreign capitalists,” Labog said. “It is this market-centered approach that is behind the government’s promotion of nursing courses throughout the country. The drop in the demand for nurses abroad exposes the un-sustainability of this approach.”
The labor leader said that given the severe financial and economic crisis in the world, and the drop in employment opportunities provided by foreign investments, it was “shameful” that the Aquino government continues to rely on foreign investments to generate jobs in the country.