Transfer of hospital in Region 12 to DOH in limbo

The Upper Valley Community Hospital in Surallah, South Cotabato. Photo courtesy of Google Street View

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 December) – The full transfer to the Department of Health (DOH) of the Soccsksargen regional hospital in Surallah town, South Cotabato is facing uncertainty due to funding claims from the provincial government.

Dr. Aristides Tan, DOH-Region 12 director, said the planned turnover of the facility last October did not materialize after the local government of South Cotabato issued “new demands,” among them the “reimbursement” of some P150 million.

He said the signing of a usufruct agreement with the provincial government for the lease of the existing facilities and the five-hectare land hosting the hospital complex in Barangay Dajay, Surallah for at least 25 years has also remained pending as of Thursday.

DOH and the local government forged an agreement to start the transition process last June for the full turnover of the hospital, which is officially named Soccsksargen General Hospital (SGH).

Tan said they have no available funds for the demanded reimbursement, which reportedly covers the period from the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) by both parties in June 2019 for its transfer and development into a regional hospital.

The reimbursement claim started from over P200 million and has since been reduced to around P150 million, he said.

He said the agency is willing to pay for the local government’s investments into the facility but only from the start of the transition period last May.

“We are negotiating but the other end has not agreed so far,” Tan said in an interview with reporters in Koronadal City.

The turnover of the hospital to the DOH is provided for in Republic Act 11102, the law that created the SGH, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Oct. 26, 2018.

The facility, previously known as the Upper Valley Community Hospital, was constructed from 2010 to 2013 through grants from the DOH (P28 million) and San Miguel Corp. (P25 million).

Based on the MOA, the transition process should have started in January 2020 but was delayed due to the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

The provincial government, through Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr., decided to defer the transfer of the hospital to the DOH and utilized it instead as dedicated isolation and treatment facility for Covid-19 since April 2020.

Tan said the DOH-12 was ready to take over the hospital’s operations as early as 2020 and already allotted funds for it.

He said they already completed the hiring of the initial batch of personnel, with an initial 57 plantilla items opened last year for doctors, nurses, and other ancillary workers, and procured some medicines and equipment.

“They have already been reporting for duty at the SGH since the start of the transition period,” he said.

But pending the full turnover of the SGH, the official said its planned upgrade to a level 2 facility by next year will have to take a backseat.

He said the funding for the hospital, which has a proposed budget of around PHP70 million for the maintenance and other operating expenses in 2022, might also be affected.

SGH, which formally started its operations in January 2017 as a 10-bed infirmary, has been downgraded to a Covid-19 facility and presently not accepting other patients, he said.

Gov. Tamayo has repeatedly assured that the provincial government remains committed to fully transfer the SGH to the DOH-12 but stressed that it should be subjected to the proper processes.

In a statement over his radio program on Nov. 29, he said the local government stands firm on its reimbursement claims with the DOH as set in the June 2019 MOA.

The agreement was signed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque and the governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes.

As of Nov. 24, Tamayo said the province’s “collectibles” with the DOH were at around P125 million.

“That’s people’s money so we cannot just waive that,” the governor said.

As to the usufruct agreement, he said its signing has been delayed as they are still waiting for the official transfer of the newly completed hospital buildings to the local government as reportedly required by the Commission on Audit. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)