“Healthcare is non-negotiable. The POC has been servicing the poor during its 68 years in existence. The POC should remain for the poor.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Health workers, health advocates and urban poor residents trooped to the office of the Megawide Construction Corporation, on June 14, Firday. The latter was the only bidder that submitted documents for the modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC). The groups called on Megawide to back off from the modernization project of the POC – the only government tertiary hospital that specializes in bone illnesses.
The consortium Megawide Construction Corp. and World Citi, Inc. was the lone bidder that submitted its documents along with technical and financial proposals for the modernization of POC on June 4, the deadline set by the Department of Health (DOH). Health undersecretary and chairman of the Pre-qualification, Bids and Awards Committee (PBAC) Teodoro J. Herbosa said the submitted documents would be immediately evaluated and they will soon issue a decision later this month.
There were nine bidders when the bidding for the POC modernization project was announced in November 2012. Sean Velchez, president of the National Orthopedic Hospital Workers’ Union-Alliance of Health Workers (NOHWU-AHW) said the reduction in the number of bidders could be the result of their consistent protests against privatization of government hospitals.
The Megawide Construction Corp., a publicly listed contractor and partly owned by SM tycoon Henry Sy also recently bagged a contract for one of the two Phase One segments of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) School Infrastructure Projects (PSIP), as well as the expansion and rehabilitation of the Mactan International Airport. The company was also qualified to bid for phase two of the PSIP.
Megawide’s construction portfolio includes approximately 48 low-rise to high-rise condominiums and industrial buildings. It is also behind the construction of the SM Development Corporation condominiums, Bellevue Hotel, Citysquare Residences and Hotel Kimberly in Tagaytay among others. If the POC modernization project will be awarded to Megawide, the lone bidder, it will be entitled to a contract to operate and maintain the hospital for 25 years under the build-operate-transfer scheme.
The groups said Megawide has no business meddling in public health services as its only objective is to rake in profits. “Public health service should not be turned into a business. Megawide has no business meddling in public health service provision. For the people’s sake, Megawide should back-off from the POC PPP project,” Velchez said.
The P5.70 billion ($137 million) modernization project of the POC is being widely opposed by health workers and anti-privatization advocates. Protesters are raising concerns regarding the removal of free services presently enjoyed by some 80 percent of POC patients, if and when the POC modernization project begins. They also consider the project as a threat to the security of tenure of health workers once POC falls under private investors management.
One nursing attendant, 35 years old, who does not want to be named joined the protest action in front of the Megawide office in Quezon City last Friday. She expressed concern about losing her job if a new management will take over the POC. “With my age there is no assurance that I will still land a job if we will be removed from the POC,” she told Bulatlat.com. She had been in service for six years and is in the roster of plantilla positions.
The DOH meanwhile said that no one in the POC will be displaced as they have an option whether to continue working under the new management as a private health practitioner or remain with the government and transfer to another government hospital. But, according to health workers, staying under the new management would mean losing their other benefits like hazard pay, longevity pay, laundry allowance and collective negotiation agreement (CNA) incentives. The contractualization of health workers is also widespread in the government.
But most of all, the groups stressed the effect of the “modernization” of the POC to poor patients who have been benefiting from the hospital’s affordable and accessible health services.
“The government should allocate funds to public hospitals because this where the poor go. Imagine the debt a patient acquires when they get sick. In the case of the patients in the POC, they have to spend for many lab tests, for prosthesis, if needed, most especially when they have to undergo an operation,” the 35 year old nursing aid said.
‘Private organization participating in government projects’
Meanwhile, a dialogue was held between officials of Megawide and leaders of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) after the group’s protest action.
Louie Ferrer, chief marketing officer of Megawide said the modernization project has not yet been awarded to the company. “The process is still ongoing. The awarding of the project will be done during the next few days,” Ferrer told the group.
Ferrer said Megawide Corporation is just a “private organization participating in government projects.” He said Megawide participates in government projects because they believe in the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. He denied that Megawide has vested interests to rake in profits as the construction of the new POC will be subsidized by the DOH in the next five years of the project.
Emma Manuel, president emeritus of the AHW said the government has the resources to improve government hospitals if it chooses to do so. “The government would even fund the first five years of building the new POC, then why not spend it to remedy the deteriorating facilities of government hospitals such as the POC,” Manuel explained. She also said the government is not prioritizing public health service and is just passing on the responsibility of providing a basic social service like health to investors whose sole motivation is to earn.
Ferrer said in the 700-bed capacity of the new POC, 10 percent would still be allotted to indigent patients and 60 percent will be allocated to Philhealth members, while only 30 percent are for pay patients. “This is a big sacrifice for a businessman,” Ferrer said.
Velchez belied this by citing bid bulletin no. 5 and 6, which read whereas, “the cost of surgical implant (such as prosthesis, devices implants, etc.), hospital charges (such as rehabilitation fee, blood works processing fee are excluded from Philhealth coverage and are thus out of pocket expenses for sponsored patients in general.”
“The reason why patients are staying long in the hospital is because they have no money to buy for prosthesis,” Velchez said. He also said the project proponent is not under obligation to service patients beyond the maximum utilization. He cited bid bulletin no. 5, which read: “The project proponent shall not be under obligation to service patients beyond maximum utilization. For instance, if all the 70 service beds are occupied and the hospital receives additional patients in the service category, the project proponent shall have the right to not accommodate them and instead transfer or refer them to another DOH operated facility.” Charity and indigent patients are referred to as “service patients.”
He pointed out that government hospitals are not allowed to turn away indigent patients.
The bid bulletin no. 5 indicates that: “In the event that all the installed beds for indigent or service category are fully utilized, the Project Proponent shall have the option of stabilizing the patients and transferring or referring them to another DOH facility.”
“But don’t you want a state of the art facility?” Ferrer asked the group.
Manuel stressed that they are not against modernization. However, the government should be doing it and not private investors like Megawide. Manuel said investors will not be interested in such investments like health if it will not gain profits.
“Healthcare is non-negotiable. The POC has been servicing the poor during its 68 years in existence. The POC should remain for the poor,” Velchez pointed out.