S. Mindanao losing health workers to greener pastures abroad

Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial told MindaNews in a telephone interview Tuesday the number of personnel serving the region is threatened with the continued contractual arrangements in DOH-run hospitals and low salaries in local government-administered district and provincial hospitals.

Of the 600 personnel in the region's biggest medical facility, the Davao Medical Center, only 300 have plantilla positions with the other half hired via contractual basis.

She cited that most of those hired on contractual basis are health aides, utility workers, and nurses.

Ubial said the case is the same in the regional hospitals. Around two to three vacant positions for doctors in each of the 16 district hospitals in the region have not been filled for there are no takers, she said.

Southeastern Mindanao comprises the three Davao provinces and Compostela Valley and the cities of Davao, Digos, Panabo, Samal and Tagum.

A newly hired physician in local government hospitals receives P20,000 a month, Ubial said.

She said the contractual scheme and the low pay have caused a fast turn-over of employees with half of them leaving their post one to two years after hiring for higher-paying jobs abroad.

Ubial said if the compensation state does not improve, it will compromise the delivery of health services in the region in two to three years.

But she stressed that at this point they are still coping with the situation. "There is still no effect to the delivery of health services around the region for now," she claimed, but warned this might not last long.

Ubial said during a press conference last week with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that there are no takers for the vacant position for a doctor in remote Sarangani Island, Davao del Sur.

She said residents in the island-town have never seen a private or a government doctor since October 2006 when a physician under the department's Doctors to the Barrio Program discontinued his service when his contract ended.

For the last 10 months, residents of remote Talaingod town in Davao del Norte have also not seen a doctor.

Another area where a doctor is badly needed is for a health station in “Diwalwal,” a mining area in Mt. Diwata in Monkayo, Compostela Valley.

Ubial said that most of the places where doctors are evasive are depressed areas.

She said DOH under its Doctors to the Barrio program is actively recruiting more doctors, even augmenting offers by the local government by 20 percent just to make it more attractive.

Ubial said the Department of Budget and Management, however, has a problem with the scheme, ruling that local governments must take care of the needs of its personnel.

She said the national government failed to prioritize health with a budget amounting to only three percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. This year, the DOH only got P10.8 billion, or 3.2 percent of the total budget.

Ubial cited among the major culprit is the legislated upgrading of hospital levels, increasing their capacity without corresponding increase in budget for personnel and equipment.

Duque told reporters last week the government has allowed government doctors to moonlight with private practice just to augment their income in an effort to keep them from leaving the country.

He also cited that some doctors receive extra compensation via a reimbursement scheme from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

He said that a long term strategy they implemented starting last year is to send deserving students from lower-income families to study medicine as government scholars, whom the secretary said are more likely to stay in the country than their rich counterparts.