COVID-19 pandemic paves way for better services in state-run hospital 

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 27 March) –  The COVID-19 pandemic is not just about stories of death and devastation but also of hope and better services in a state-run hospital like the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center (CRMC).

Dr. Nor-aine Kansi, adult infectious disease specialist and the CRMC COVID-19 focal person, said lessons from the pandemic experience led to the improvement of the hospital’s services and  the introduction of several innovations.

“So the beauty of COVID-19 experience, many innovations were undertaken to prevent transmission, like we gave more space for every patient and some could stay alone in a room,” she said, adding they had to ensure physical distancing was observed.

Cotabato Regional and Medical Center. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

Kansi noted the “huge improvement” now in several service areas in the hospital. Rooms have been improved and equipped, compared to the situation before COVID-19, she said. 

Before the pandemic, the medical staff had to navigate their way through a huge crowd of patients and their companions along the hallways. 

Now, the situation along the hallways has eased as two more floors have been added to what used to be a four-story building — the first three for hospital, the fourth for the auditorium. 

“You can see it yourself, it’s too far from what we had in the past,” said hospital administration staff Jeanet Romanes, as she showed MindaNews the brand new, well-equipped hospital sections, wards, auditorium, other facilities, and equipment.

Nurse’s station at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

Upgrading its services is important for a regional medical center that caters to patients not only in Cotabato City or the BARMM but also in the neighboring areas in Region 12 or Socsksargen,

Republic Act 11391, signed into law by then President Rodrigo Duterte on August 22, 2019,  increased the bed capacity of CRMC from 400 beds to 600 beds. As of March 2023, the hospital has 575 beds. The law also mandates the upgrade of its service facilities and professional health care services. 

Today, more buildings are under construction within the compound, in various phases, including the staff house and the cancer center which is expected to open soon. 

Romanes pointed to the linear accelerator (LINAC),  a device most commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer. 

“Instead of referring our patients to other cities, we can now offer our own radiation therapy to our constituents in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Cotabato City and South-Central Mindanao,” said Dr.  Sittie Aneza Maglangit, CRMC Cancer Center medical chief.

Isolation facilities 

Unlike before when everyone was confined in one area for triaging and isolation, today there are dedicated areas per department or ward, Kansi said, adding this also applies to outpatients. 

From lessons learned during the pandemic, the hospital now has its own isolation facility per department because “it’s not only COVID-19 patients who are required to be isolated but also those who have infectious diseases like chicken pox or measles, anything which is airborne and contact to contact,” she said.

A new room at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center in Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

She added that it’s not only the hospital that made adjustments and changes in attitude but also the public.

She pointed out the habit of using face masks and frequent use of alcohol. “People are more conscious now how to prevent highly contagious viral contaminations,” Kansi stressed. 

Post-Mortem Care

Another lesson from the COVID-19 experience in CRMC is ensuring the provision of post-mortem care for Muslims who succumbed to COVID-19, to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Department of Health in its memo 2020-0158  on the “Proper Handling of the Remains of Suspect, Probable and Confirmed COVID-19 cases,” said suspect and probable COVID-19 patients who died with pending test results shall be handled similar to a confirmed COVID-19 case. “Standard safety precautions must be observed at all times. Burial and cremation of the remains of suspect, probable, and confirmed COVID-19 cases are safe for as long as strict infection and prevention control measures are observed.”

The DOH also said that the remains of those who die from COVID-19, “shall be placed in a durable, airtight and sealed metal casket” but for patients with Islamic faith, “remains shall alternatively be placed in a double sealed cadaver bag.”

Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours. They also go through a ritual for their dead: bathing the cadaver (ghusl), followed by shrouding (kafan) and funeral prayer (salat al-ghā’ib).

“So we trained our staff  how to do the post mortem care especially for Muslims. We make sure before the relatives or the local government units receive the cadaver for burial,” Kansi said, adding the personnel doing this wear personal protective equipment. 

She said they did this to ensure the proper handling of cadavers before they are brought out of the hospital for burial. The hospital also coordinates with local government units and relatives to receive the dead and provide them instructions on the burial. 

Kansi said the hospital’s assistance to relatives of the dead is not only for COVID-19 but for other contagious diseases as well. 

Inside the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

Humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also helped during the pandemic with its experience and expertise in crisis management and emergency response, medical care in detention, and humanitarian forensics during the pandemic. 

ICRC also gave valuable guidance and assistance to state authorities and non-state armed groups  in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, provided them guidance on  how Islamic burial laws can be referenced and adapted to the numerous protection challenges in the context of the Muslims, ensuring a more dignified handling of mortal remains.

In its law and policy blog, ICRC pointed out that handling of the dead could aggravate the global crisis if there is lack of coordination between health authorities, humanitarian forensics and Islamic religious authorities. It also noted that if guidance on the burial of Muslims who die of COVID-19 is not communicated and explained to the Muslims through local imams, the media, and community leaders, what will happen is “a scenario that will allow misconceptions and rumours to persist” the ICRC said. 

Use of local language

Kansi said the failure to stop the spread of disinformation and misinformation on COVID-19 during the pandemic lockdowns and the vaccination drives was a mistake that they had to learn from. 

“We need to continuously educate the people by doing this effectively. We have to communicate to them in (their own language), in whatever media platforms, for them to easily grasp the crucial role of the society in the battle of the spread of disease,” Kansi said. 

Vaccination area at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

Among the wrong information are that those who are vaccinated will become zombies, that they will become impotent, that it can kill, that it is against their beliefs. 

She said the right information about COVID-19 should have been passed on using all platforms, in the language used by the people. 

Kansi was also thankful for the support of the local government units, Bangsamoro government, international humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC, for providing them personal protective equipment (PPE) during the time when these were difficult to procure, and later with the RT-PCR testing machine. 

“We are very much fortunate and privileged, the results are faster now,” within 24 hours,” she said. Before the machine arrived, they had to wait for several days and even weeks to see the results.(Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)