Nation’s poorest cling to wretched deathbeds

NOWHERE TO GO  A young patient with a metal-braced leg suspended on the posts of his bed at the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City. AFP PHOTO

A young patient with a metal-braced leg suspended on the posts of his bed at the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City. AFP PHOTO

Paraplegic Venerando Acabal wriggles on a rust-eaten bed to soothe painful bed sores, in misery but also fearful that privatization plans for the country’s only bone hospital in Quezon City will rob him of his refuge.

The state-run Philippine Orthopedic Center, a cramped and dizzying maze of rickety stretchers that spill out of humid wards into dingy hallways, has treated tens of thousands of patients for free since it opened in 1945.

But it is slated to close after a private firm last year won a contract to replace it with an expanded new facility, part of a multi-billion-dollar privatization program by President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administration.

“If they kick me out of here, I have no choice but to go home and die in my house,” said 55-year-old carpenter Acabal, who has been bedridden at the hospital since breaking his back in a construction site accident four years ago.

Despite wretched appearances, the hospital is much-loved by the poor as they can turn up, have complicated operations and stay for years even if they do not have any money.

Of the nearly 7,000 patients treated last year, only two percent paid their bills in full, according to hospital records, and the facility’s chief is worried the charity will be severely curbed under private management.

“It’s difficult to reconcile profitability and service to the poor,” hospital director Jose Brittanio Pujalte said.

“Our patients here are the poorest of the poor and they have nowhere else to go.”

Profits versus poor
The private operator, Megawide-World Citi, has a contract to run the hospital for 25 years from mid-2016 before having to hand it back to the government.

It did not return requests from Agence France-Presse seeking comment about how it would balance its need to make a return on its investment with the needs of the poor.

When asked about the issue, the head of the Private-Public Partnership Center, Cosette Canilao, said the new operators were contractually obliged to only charge full rates to 10 percent of patients.

She, however, could not provide details on whether the remaining 90 percent would still be required to make some payments.

Canilao emphasized that privatization was necessary to help upgrade the Philippines’ woefully underfunded healthcare system.

“There is an urgent need for us to improve the health services for the public and one way of doing that is to take private partners,” she said.

The Philippines spends half the global average on health as a percentage of gross domestic product, according to the World Health Organization.

The country’s largest mental institution and a major hospital that serves provinces regularly hit by typhoons are also set to be privatized.

Miserable refuge
The hospital is undeniably in need of extra funds.

Acabal, the carpenter, shares a squalid ward with no air-conditioning with seven other men, all bare-chested to ease the discomfort from the summer heat.

“I’m in pain all day from bed sores on my back. I go to sleep, wake up, and that wall is all I see,” he said, gasping for air, and with a faint whistle from an exposed breathing tube protruding from his throat.

A far corner of the hallway has been transformed into a ward with rusty stretchers. On an adjacent ward, a boy with a metal brace on his leg wails in pain.

A bunch of rosaries and dried flower garlands hang from a life-sized statue of Jesus Christ, which serves as a prayer sanctuary.

Relatives watch over their loved ones, sprawled on the grimy concrete floor half-covered with chipped vinyl tiles. Some spend the night on cardboard laid out on the pavement outside the hospital building.

At the emergency room entrance, there is a chaotic but steady stream of patients arriving in wheelchairs and ambulances.

Still, 40-year-old former security guard Randy Gonzaga, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a tumor on his spine, does not want to be anywhere else.

The father of five-year-old twin girls survived Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in his home province of Leyte in 2013 but discovered he had a tumor on his spine that same year.

Gonzaga is selling purses made by his wife from his hospital bed to raise 60,000 pesos for a titanium implant that is required before surgery to remove the tumor.

The hospital cannot afford the implant but it can provide the surgery, which could cost up to P200,000, for free.

“I hope to have my tumor removed before the new owners come in. Otherwise, I have nowhere else to go,” he said.



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  1. it was under marshal law…my brother and i were at ph heart center for asia, still brandnew. i was still in my teens, student. my younger brother was in his sixth grade, and he was suffering from chest pain. without my parents knowing it i took him there. i can still recall the spacious lobby where we were and attended by a group of medical staffs right there, no question asked except my brother’s name and the reason why we were there. and before his name was even written a couple of medical staffs were already attending to him. i remembered i was asked for a couple of questions but anything about money. they can see that we don’t have.
    treatment execises were done on my brod. luckily it was not a serious one…that was the time under the evil dictator….
    fast forward under the hands of the righteous ones, here we are..go figure out!

    • I’m happy for your brother whose case was not a serious one. I also agree with your description of the Philippine Heart Center under martial law. Now it’s just all about making the oligarchs happy – to hell with the poor. The Yellow crowd are such righteous hypocrites.

  2. Why not give the 70 billion money to the government run hospitals like Orthopedic instead of wasting it to the BBL? That 70 billion will will go a long way in funding our state hospitals.

  3. I am surprised that no Philippine based Non Profit Foundation is involved in trying to help indigent patients in this very important state-run Philippine Orthopedic Center. If there is any I would like to know who because I would like to support their activities in my own little way.

  4. These people are the “bosses” Aquino declared in his speeches. But he chose to spend millions if not billions to bribe congress and senate to do as he wants and as his cronies and KKK’s want instead of instead of helping his “BOSSES”.