Plight and neglect of health workers a continuing crisis

JEERS TO the media for failing to include the context in reporting the delay of payments for medical frontliners, highlighted by the COA report released last week. News reports described the systemic failure as one of the deficiencies in the DOH’s management of its budget, without noting this as a crisis that has hounded medical workers on the frontlines of the pandemic response. 

More than a year into the pandemic, healthcare workers remain underpaid and overworked. As early as June 2020, two months after the first lockdown, media  reported that frontliners were resigning because of meager pay, with no hazard adjustments. In August of the same year, the medical community, led by the Healthcare Professionals’ Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), even called for a two-week timeout and laid out a seven-point policy recommendation to ensure that the health and hospital systems could regroup to sustain its capacity to work. 

The long-standing issue found new ground as COA released its report on August 11, flagging the “deficiencies” in the department’s handling of COVID-19 funds worth over PHP67 billion to support its pandemic response. According to COA’s audit report, DOH failed to disburse PHP11.89 billion that was supposed to cover the hazard pay and special risk allowances (SRAs) of health care workers. 

On August 13, media carried statements from unions including the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) and Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) calling attention to the dismal plight of frontliners and sounding the alarm on the worsening issue of mass resignations. News accounts also recalled the Bayanihan 2 law that mandates hazard pay and SRAs for both public and private healthcare workers.

Picking the story up only after the COA audit, most reports failed to point out that the issue of frontliners’ unpaid benefits was not new that the COA surfaced with its report. The justified complaint was raised last year and has remained unresolved. stood out for calling attention to the issue even before the COA’s report was made public. It picked up a dzBB interview with Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the FNU, reporting on unpaid benefits, delayed salaries despite the heavy burden of their service. cited data showing that majority of the organization’s members do not get their benefits on time despite DBM and DOH’s claims that the budget was already released. It  highlighted DOH figures indicating that hospitals are already at full capacity, including bed occupancy rates, bed utilization rates and ICU utilization rates, as well as the high risks of exposure to the disease. 

A separate report published on August 17 cited data from the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. showing that “about 40 percent of nurses” across the country had already resigned.

The COA report confirms there has been a failure on the part of the DOH.  Media should not miss the larger picture of that failure.