“By awarding the POC modernization project to the private investor, the Aquino administration had just signed the death sentence for public orthopedic hospital care.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) has issued a Notice of Award to the lone bidder of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) on Dec. 11, Wednesday. The P5.6 billion ($126.519 million) contract will be awarded to the consortium of Megawide Construction Corporation and World Citi Medical Center. Under the contract, the private investor will build and operate, for 25 years, a new 700-bed Orthopedic Hospital to be situated at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) compound in Quezon City.
Health workers staged another protest action in front of the POC on Thursday, Dec. 12. They held a noise barrage and burned images of President Benigno Aquino III, Health Secretary Enrique Ona and SM tycoon Henry Sy. Companies owned by Sy have substantial shares of stocks in Megawide Construction.
According to the Public-Private Partnership Center website, the Notice of Award was issued after the DOH’s Pre-qualifications Bids and Awards Committee for the Modernization of the POC (MPOC) issued Resolution No. 13 last November 28 recommending to Health Secretary Enrique Ona that the contract be awarded to Megawide-World Citi Consortium.
Sean Velchez, president of National Orthopedic Center Workers’ Union-Alliance of Health Workers (NOHWU-AHW) called the awarding as a death sentence. “By awarding the POC modernization project to the private investor, the Aquino administration had just signed the death sentence for public orthopedic hospital care.”
“This blatant disregard for people’s health and welfare was even done when Filipinos are barely recovering from the disaster! President Aquino and Secretary Ona did not even consider that poor typhoon survivors and other indigent orthopedic patients depend on the free services at POC,” Velchez added.
Velchez said there are 80 patients who came from the devastated provinces of Eastern Visayas currently confined at the POC. The past week, the group demanded from the DOH the release of an augmentation budget for the patients confined at the hospital but their call was not heeded.
POC, hospital for the poor
In its many years of existence, the POC has primarily served poor patients as its fees remain affordable for the poo. Velchez said patients who really have nothing to pay can go home without paying a single centavo. He countered the DOH claim that modernizing the POC will not result to expensive health care.
Velchez also belied the DOH statement that the new Orthopedic Hospital will have an increased bed capacity from 300 beds to 700 beds. He said that at present, the POC in its current location at Banawe, Quezon City already has 700 beds and an allotment of 500 or more beds for charity/service patients.
In the modernized Orthopedic Hospital to be built in the NKTI compound, indigent patients will only be allotted 70 beds, while 420 is allotted for PhilHealth sponsored patients.
Citing the bid documents, Velchez said the new private operator will charge payment for health services based on prevailing market prices. “This is beyond the reach of many patients.”
He also added that the 420 beds for PhilHealth patients is not even an assurance of access to affordable health care. “As data from the government’s National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that PhilHealth and other sources accounted for only 9.9 percent, while out of pocket payments constitute more than half of the total health expenditure in 2010-2011.”
Health workers also remain doubtful despite Ona’s pronouncements that health workers of the POC will not lose their jobs. “We saw that our job security is in peril as documents from the DOH itself showed that the private investor will have the prerogative to choose and hire health personnel for the new hospital,” Velchez said.
Since the government announced its plan to modernize the POC and to privatize 25 more government hospitals, the health workers has been steadfast in fighting for the people’s right to accessible and affordable health services. The POC health workers together with other health workers and professionals from different government hospitals vowed to continue mobilizations to stop privatization – in the guise of modernization – of government hospitals.
They also vowed to exhaust all options available to oppose the privatization of POC and other public hospitals in the country.