Taking the cue from lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic, the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Dec. 13, passed on the third and final reading a proposed measure that will establish the Health Emergency Auxiliary Reinforcement Team (HEART) under the Department of Health (DoH) to augment the health workforce in times of disasters, public health emergencies, and health threats.
HEART will be composed of volunteers from the medical field who will be deployed during health crisis situations. It is included in the 13 priority bills of the Marcos administration.
Voting 254, the lower chamber approved House Bill (HB) No. 6518 to create “a reserve force of highly skilled and health-oriented professionals and volunteers who can be mobilized to maintain the capacity to meet surges in the demand for additional manpower in the country’s healthcare system and provide assistance as needed in times of health crises.”
Under the proposed measure, the HEART will be composed of volunteers who would register with the Health department.
The qualifications of the volunteers are as follow: licensed professionals in the fields of medicine, nursing, medical technology, and other allied health fields including those who are retired and those who are no longer practicing their professions in a health facility setting; graduates of medicine and allied health courses and medical students who have completed a one-year medical internship and who have not yet been issued licenses to practice their respective professions; and other health support workforce, including barangay health workers, whose services are necessary in times of disasters, public health emergencies and health threats.
The bill said that the State endeavors to promote the spirit of “bayanihan” or communal spirit through the establishment of HEART.
It will also “enhance the capacity of the nation to expand its human health resources in times of disasters, public health emergencies and health threats of both national and local scale through the mobilization of the Health Emergency Auxiliary Reinforcement Team.”
The proposed law also creates the HEART Board, which shall prescribe a comprehensive guideline for the recruitment, selection and training of a HEART volunteer.
The Board would also be tasked to mobilize the HEART upon receipt of a request from municipal and city mayors and provincial governors in connection with a public health emergency, threats to public health, or a disaster, whether of local or national scale.
Volunteers under the HEART program would receive an allowance from the DOH during the period of actual mobilization.
The allowance will be released in coordination with Department of Budget and Management (DBM), subject to availability of funds, and other existing civil service, budgeting, accounting and auditing rules and regulations.
Among the bill’s authors are House Speaker Martin Romualdez, Zamboanga City 2nd District Rep. Manuel Jose Dalipe, and Tingog Party-list Reps. Yedda Marie Romualdez and Jude Acidre.