By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House committee on welfare of children is calling on the Department of Health (DOH) to investigate government hospitals allegedly turning away children in need of emergency medical services.
Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, panel chairman, joined Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas in asking the DOH to launch a probe into the deaths of two sick children after they were turned down by government hospitals in Manila.
“That really warrants an investigation,” Romualdez said in her panel’s virtual hearing on the situation and welfare of children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just hope the DOH, despite ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), GCQ (general community quarantine) conditions, children are not deprived of the health care services,” she pointed out.
In the virtual hearing, Brosas expressed her serious concern about the two reported cases of children aged one and four years old who “died shortly after they were turned away by government hospitals in Manila” during the government’s imposition of a lockdown.
“Now I would like to ask the DOH, ito naman po ay malinaw eh, dineny talaga ng hospital pero malala ang kalagayan. May need for pediatrician at cardiologist, pero hindi sila naasikaso. This was in April 9 to April 13,” she said.
(It is clear that they were denied by hospitals despite their serious health conditions. There was a need for pediatrician and cardiologist, but they were not attended to.)
“Pag ganito po ang nangyayari eh, parang maliwag po dito negligence po ito.(When something like this happens, it is clear here that there is negligence). Please look into this, investigate this well,” Brosas said.
Responding to the two lawmakers’ call, DOH Medical Specialist Dr. Anthony P. Calibo assured the House panel that the DOH will look into the incidents.
“We will have this looked into by our DOH Center for Health Development for Metro Manila headed by its Regional Director Dr. Corazon Flores, [to] whom we will recommend to have an investigation done on the incidents being shared to us in this forum,” he said.
“We maintain that there is no restriction for children to receive emergency care. There is no rule that children will be refused of care,” he said.
He explained that the first approach of any primary health care facility in emergency room setting is to assess the condition of the child, and provide basic intervention within their capacity.
“If not within their capability, then that facility who was able to see and assess the child should make arrangements to transfer the child to a higher level facility who has the capability of further treating the conditions of the child,” he added.
Calibo said appropriate sanctions will be slapped against hospitals if found guilty of refusing the admission of patients, especially children with serious medical conditions.
“Turning away children who are in need of medical services at the doorsteps of the emergency room area without providing any basic first aid or medical care warrants an investigation from the DOH Center for Health Development. Certainly this will not go unchecked,” he said.
“We will make sure that proper sanctions will be done if found to have violated rules and regulations on guidelines on providing emergency care, especially to our children,” he said.
Romualdez asked Calibo to provide her panel and Brosas a report on the DOH investigation.
Calibo said the DOH is also advising parents or guardians of children “not to expose the children unnecessary to travel and bringing to hospitals if not really in need of emergency interventions.”
He said the barangay health emergency response teams can visit the families that have children with health concerns.
Calibo also told the panel that the DOH will issue a memorandum listing the health conditions that must be given uninterrupted healthcare services in ECQ areas.
“The DOH is preparing a department memorandum identifying the list of conditions that should still be continued to make sure that this will be uninterrupted and services will be provided, especially those with chronic conditions,” Calibo said.
“For example, if there are children who are on hemodialysis or with peritoneal dialysis, or those that are scheduled for regular blood transfusion or even scheduled chemotherapy, these are still allowed because discontinuing these interventions may even result [in] complications of these children,” he said.
He said the memorandum has been submitted to their superiors “for proper clearance” and approval.
“Hopefully within the week, this department memorandum will be issued as well, to be officially adopted by those involved in the implementation of the community quarantine in affected areas in the country,” he said.
He said under the proposed memorandum, they highlighted “emergency conditions that will really be important for barangay health emergency response teams to provide assistance to these families.”
In the virtual hearing, DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Ferchito Avelino said there are 591 confirmed COVID-19 cases among children aged 0 to 18.
Of the number, 546 remain active, 35 have recovered, and 10 have died.
In her opening speech, Romualdez said children are among those at “gravest risk” during this pandemic crisis.
“For weeks now, these children have been confined to their homes, thousands of whom live in crammed informal settlements, further aggravated by the heightened restrictions on their personal movement. This situation could leave millions of Filipino children even more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, anxiety, hunger, poverty, trauma, and violence even inside their own homes,” she said.
She said the Lower Chamber is committed to ensure that all policies and programs being implemented and put in place “are inclusive of the welfare of children and their families, especially the most vulnerable and the marginalized.”
“The ability of our children to weather the effects of this public health emergency depends on all of us. Now, more than ever, no one, no single child should be left behind,” Romualdez said.