The government has allocated an additional budget of P1.98 billion for the continuous hiring of 20,839 Human Resources of Health (HRH) personnel for the period of July to December 31, 2021. The funding will help the country have an adequate healthcare workforce to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Bong Go revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte recently approved the release of this amount charged against the 2021 Contingent Fund. The remaining funding requirement of P1.7 billion will be charged against the available balance of allotments of the Department of Health.
Under Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, the DOH may hire new HRH personnel, such as medical and allied medical staff, under the emergency hiring program to maintain the capacity of the national healthcare system amid the ongoing crisis.
Of the aforesaid figure, a total of 10,120 health workers were hired under the emergency hiring program; 4,800 are assisting in the vaccination drive; 3,487 are working as disease surveillance officers; while the remaining 2,432 are working in COVID-19 testing laboratories.
The workers shall serve to boost the capacity of COVID-19 referral hospitals in the public and private sectors, DOH-retained hospitals, specialty hospitals, state universities and colleges, COVID-19 referral laboratories, and temporary treatment and monitoring facilities.
They will also help to increase the number of laboratories with COVID-19 test capacity which will in turn improve the laboratory turn-around time, keep the critical utilization rate of hospitals at medium risk or below, and maintain the COVID-19 case fatality rate at two percent or below.
Fixed monthly SRA
Recognizing the risks that all healthworkers face once they report for duty, Go also expressed his support for a proposal to introduce a fixed monthly Special Risk Allowance (SRA) for both public and private healthcare workers (HCWs) who physically report for duty in hospitals and other health facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Go urged concerned authorities to provide a certain level of flexibility in the implementation of the provisions of the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act which provides the legal basis for the provision of SRA.
“Bigyan natin ng sapat na suporta ang medical frontliners. Bawat araw ay nasa panganib ang kanilang buhay. Siguraduhin nating mabibigyan ang lahat ng qualified healthcare workers ng Special Risk Allowance at iba pang insentibo o benepisyo na naaayon sa batas,” appealed Go.
“Kaya ako umaapela na maging flexible tayo sa pag-iimplementa ng nakasaad sa batas at kung kakayanin ng pondo ay bigyan na ang lahat ng qualified ng fixed na amount ng SRA kaysa bilangin pa natin ang kanilang pag-duty bawat araw,” he added.
At present, all HCWs who are directly catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients receive an SRA not exceeding P5,000 per month. The allowance is pro-rated based on the number of days that they physically reported for work, pursuant to Administrative Order No. 42 which President Rodrigo Duterte signed last June 1.
To ensure their contributions and the risks they face are sufficiently recognized, Go also gave his support for expanding the provision of the SRA to all HCWs serving in the hospitals. He pointed out that almost all HCWs fall within the scope of the law’s definition given the high number of COVID-19 cases admitted in the country’s health care facilities.
“Lahat naman ng health workers na naka-duty ay maituturing na exposed sa banta ng COVID-19. Hindi nakikita ang kalaban na ito kung kaya’t mahirap paghiwalayin pa kung sino ang exposed at sino ang hindi,” continued Go.
“‘Pagdating mo sa ospital, ‘di mo naman masasabi. Once nasa loob ka na, prone at maituturing na exposed ka na rin. Hindi mo masabi na walang virus sa dinaanan mong floor dahil dito lang ang virus kasi hindi nga natin nakikita ang kalaban,” he explained in an earlier interview.
Go added that the government must provide all the support they can to medical frontliners given their crucial role in fighting the pandemic and in saving lives.
“As much as possible, kung kakayanin naman ng pondo, ibigay na natin lahat ng suportang pwede nating ibigay sa medical frontliners dahil sila naman ang maituturing na mga bayani sa laban na ito,” Go stressed.
To address the growing demand for health workers, Go had earlier encouraged those working in non-critical areas to volunteer to be deployed to Metro Manila and other critical areas to help boost their capacity to face this pandemic.
In line with this, he launched an initiative to mobilize volunteer medical frontliners in collaboration with the Office of the Presidential Assistant to the Visayas (OPAV), DOH regional offices, local government units, hospitals with Malasakit Centers, and Project Balik Buhay member-private hospitals.
In 2019, Go was instrumental in the enactment of Republic Act No. 11466 or the Salary Standardization Law 5, which he authored and co-sponsored. The law gives civilian government employees, including nurses, their fifth round of salary increases broken down in tranches.
In the same year, he also pushed for and ensured enough funding was allotted for the implementation of a Supreme Court decision upholding Section 32 of the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 some 18 years after the law was enacted. The law increases the minimum salary grade of the Nurse I position to SG-15. The ruling was implemented the following year.