What if it burned to the ground?

Given our fragile network of government hospitals, I’m sure many people are thanking God that the entire Philippine General Hospital did not burn to the ground. But what if it did, what would have been the immediate as well as many long-term consequences of such an event? Most people are now sending up praises for the heroes at the frontlines who did not abandon their post or lost hope in spite of overwhelming challenge during the fire, but after hearing in the news that the building or facilities that were burned may have to be demolished and replaced, it occurred to me that the fire may have been a blessing in disguise.

It is important for all concerned to begin the recovery and rebuilding by answering the question: What if the PGH burned to the ground? The heroic response of medical personnel is commendable but was there or is there an actual evacuation protocol that would guide the transfer of operation to others or else where?

Please don’t write me off as a prophet of doom. Approximately a few months before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, I was asked to help train a small team of airport personnel on media crisis management. Before we even got to the media part of it, I asked the team to give a potential crisis and most of them talked about terrorist, strikes or plane crash. But when I asked them to show me their “isolation corridor for a highly contagious or infected passenger” some of them gave me a strange look. The drill made them realize that “infections” could also lead to crisis. Months later they had to deal with arriving passengers who would need to be processed and quarantined because of an “infection” called COVID-19. Referrals are fine but in a real emergency or disaster, we need a manual based on pre-planned strategy.

From there, let’s list everything we lose not just in structures and facilities but in terms of services and benefits to all Filipinos nationwide. Instead of just building back better, those in charge of the recovery should also break down what the PGH offers, to whom and from where and what the PGH sorely lacks not just as a hospital but as a living space or medical environment for the dedicated doctors, nurses, consultants, staff as well as patient families or caregivers.

For the longest time, the PGH has been a referral hospital, a dumping ground for cases that can’t or won’t be taken by private hospitals. Politicians send their voters there with endorsement letters or vouchers, believing that once the PGH accepts the patients, the politicians no longer has any moral or political obligation. It is common knowledge that the PGH often ends up with more patients than they can handle or should handle but because they are a government hospital they make do with what they actually don’t have.

If the PGH burned to the ground, would members of Congress and the Senate finally realize that they have taken the PGH for granted for so long? Would they acknowledge that they have depended on their favorite medical dumping ground for far too long? Would they come to their senses and realize that it is time to not just to “build back better” but to build even more “PGHs” all over the country?

Years before the COVID-19 pandemic, I have consistently written about the need to build specialty hospitals such as the Philippine Heart Center, the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, the NKTI and Lung Center as well as the National Orthopedic Hospital in various regions of the country. After martial law and Imelda Marcos, I cannot think of any new national hospitals being built, particularly outside Metro Manila. Specialized hospitals must go beyond Imperial Manila!

If the PGH had burned to the ground, not only would we have lost the national COVID-19 referral center, we would have lost what to many is their only hope and last chance for treatment and recovery from any and all sickness except perhaps cancer. From pediatrics to advanced adult illnesses, the PGH has been the historical medical equivalent of the Statue of Liberty that welcomes the poor and down trodden and ill.

If the PGH had burned to the ground, we would have lost a center of excellence for medical education and training, a battle zone that tests and trains and produces the country’s top doctors and nurses and medical technicians as well as hospital staff and administrators.

Equally frightening is the reality that if the PGH had burned to the ground, the ripple effect would push all the hospitals within Metro Manila or NCR plus to the breaking point. No one thinks much about it but it may shock people to know the stats on number of patients that visit or consult at the hospitals, the number of patients attended to, number confined, the volume of data, medicines, supplies and manpower required to run such a facility. All those politicians saying “We’re good” or everything is OK never really considered the horrible nightmare or the aftershocks that would have come if the PGH had burned to the ground.

Last week, two hospitals caught fire and thanks to vigilant and responsive firemen and volunteers both fires were stopped from wreaking havoc. But after two hospital fires in a week it could be possible that GOD is telling us that we need to go beyond fire safety or rebuilding.

The country has long had a shortage of government hospitals and COVID-19 has made that obvious at least twice in one year. But in spite of that no one is even talking about building real hospitals and more hospitals. Do we really need to wait until one burns completely to the ground before we come to our senses? I hope not.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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