GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 2 Feb) – South Cotabato officials cried foul Wednesday over the Department of Health (DOH)-Region 12’s decision to close down a national government-funded hospital building that is being eyed by the province as an isolation center for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients.
South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said DOH-12 personnel padlocked the three-story nursing building within the Soccsksargen General Hospital (SGH) compound in Barangay Dajay, Surallah town hours before the scheduled dry run for the facility on Tuesday.
He said the move deprived the local health sector of a decent facility to manage COVID-19 patients amid the ongoing surge of cases in the area.
“We are now short of hospital beds and medical equipment for the treatment of our COVID-19 patients. We might be forced to put them in tents outside our hospital because of this,” the governor said.
Tamayo and other provincial officials decided last week to temporarily “takeover” and utilize the SGH as isolation center despite the ongoing transition for its full transfer to the DOH.
He said they will use the facility to isolate and treat mild to moderate COVID-19 patients and to decongest the South Cotabato Provincial Hospital (SCPH) in Koronadal City.
The facility, which is under the operation and control of the provincial government, was designated as a regional hospital for Soccsksargen through Republic Act 11102 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Oct. 26, 2018.
Its main building was converted by the province in April 2020 into a dedicated treatment facility for moderate to severe COVID-19 patients, with an initial capacity of 20 beds and a complete intensive care unit setup, including a ventilator.
But its operation was suspended as confirmed cases and hospital admissions decreased from October to December last year.
Dr. Conrado Braña, the designated supervisor of public hospitals in the province, said they were baffled by the DOH-12’s decision to padlock and prohibit the use of the nursing building.
He said they decided to use the newly completed structure due to the ongoing renovation of the hospital’s main building.
“Our team was actually scheduled to hold a dry run for the operationalization of the COVID-19 Center but was surprised that it was padlocked,” he said.
Braña claimed the local government is authorized to use the SGH to manage COVID-19 patients after being issued by the DOH-Regulations, Licensing and Enforcement Division (RLED) in November last year with a license-to-operate as a community isolation unit (CIU).
As of Wednesday, the SCPH has 106 COVID-19 patients, way beyond the 30-bed capacity of its dedicated ward.
Braña, who is also the SCPH chief, said such number does not include patients who came out positive in rapid antigen test and waiting for confirmatory reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR testing.
The Integrated Provincial Health Office reported a total of 886 active COVID-19 cases as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, increasing by nearly 2,000 percent from the 44 cases on Jan. 4.
Dr. Sulpicio Henry Legaspi, DOH-12 assistant director, clarified in a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon that they did not receive any official communication from the provincial government regarding the use of the nursing building.
He said they padlocked the structure since it is being used as a quarantine facility by 10 of their personnel who tested positive for COVID-19.
DOH-12 has 143 employees assigned at the SGH since last year as part of the ongoing transition process.
He said the move was also aimed to secure over P50-million worth of medical and laboratory equipment set up inside the building, which was only turned over recently to the agency by the Department of Public Works and Highways.
“We can’t allow them to use the building since it was not yet inspected by RLED and not included in the certification to operate as CIU,” Legaspi said.
But he said they are willing to operate the SGH, including the new building, as an isolation facility “even starting tomorrow” if it will be turned over by the local government.
DOH-12 has been pushing for the full turnover of the hospital in the last two years but it was stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the delayed transition process, which was supposed to end in October last year.
The provincial government has not yet signed the usufruct agreement with the agency and required the payment of around P150 million as reimbursement for its investments into the facility to finalize the transfer. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)