Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Sunday appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to provide proper compensation for health workers who volunteered to help respond to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Go, chair of the Senate committee on health, also urged the DOH to equip the health workers with the much-needed tools and protection to do their jobs.
“Despite being volunteers, they are professionals. Highly skilled sila at buhay nila ang nakataya para maprotektahan ang sambayanang Pilipino (They are highly-skilled and their lives are at stake to protect the Filipinos). Let us use the funds available to give them proper compensation and provide them with the tools, facilities and protection they need to resolve this health crisis,” Go said.
Go suggested that the government can maximize volunteers by engaging them on the basis of contracts of service similar to job orders so that they can be compensated on a daily rate for a limited time period equivalent or close to the amount received by actual government-employed health workers.
He said the Senate pushed for the passage of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” (Republic Act 11469) to grant special authority to President Rodrigo Duterte to use the government’s funds to help and increase the front-liners fighting Covid-19 outbreak.
On March 27, the DOH called on “doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, hospital orderlies able, healthy and willing to commit to work in the fight against Covid-19.”
Go said DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado and DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III agreed that that aside from allocating funds to equip health workers and enhance health facilities, it is also possible for the government to provide highly skilled volunteers with compensation nearly close to the amount being received by government health workers but computed on a daily rate.
“Funding should not be a problem,” Go said, adding that the amount may be charged against the Maintenance and Other Operating Expense of the agency.
He said by considering the volunteers as job orders or contract of service workers, they will also be entitled to hazard pay in accordance with the recent memorandum of DBM. On top of the hazard pay, he said DBM is also proposing additional risk allowance to be given to front-line workers.
“In this time of crisis, we need all the help we can get to defeat the virus,” he said.
With this proposal, Go said volunteer medical practitioners may receive around PHP1,500 per day excluding PHP500 hazard pay and “perhaps another PHP500 risk allowance per day”.
He said a licensed nurse volunteer may get around 2,200 per day while the rate of an entry-level licensed doctor at a DOH-run hospital is salary grade 21, equivalent to PHP59,353 per month.
Volunteer doctors may be given a similar amount but computed on a daily basis, he added.
Go also suggested that “qualified” volunteers who are unlicensed nurses or nursing students be compensated using daily rate of around PHP1,000 plus hazard and other applicable allowances.
He said the priority now is to be able to provide immediate healthcare needs to solve the health problem and defeat the virus and, at the same time, to provide cash and food assistance to those who are affected the most in this crisis.
“With the passage of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, bulk of government spending is now allocated to DOH for immediate healthcare needs, DSWD for social assistance especially for affected vulnerable sectors, and DOLE for assistance to displaced workers,” Go said.
Go further urged the DOH to address immediate concerns of the health sector when it comes to much needed support from government in equipping and capacitating health institutions so they can be more responsive to the needs of constituents amid the growing threats of COVID-19.
The DOH initially offered qualified volunteers an allowance, free food and accommodation and insurance in case they get infected with Covid-19. So far, 593 health workers already signed up to help the government control the public health emergency, according to the DOH.
In its call for volunteers, the DOH indicated that qualified volunteers will work in one of the three hospitals in Metro Manila where Covid19-related cases will be referred, namely, Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine General Hospital and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act also provides that health workers will receive PHP100,000 each if they “contract severe Covid-19 infection on duty” and PHP1 million each for their families in case of death.
Go recognized the essential roles of the front-liners in this crisis.
“Maraming salamat po sa inyong serbisyo (Thank you for your service). We commend all our front-liners — health workers, doctors and nurses — who have sacrificed their lives to save their fellow Filipinos. Kayo ang mga bayani sa giyera na ito (You are the heroes of this fight),” Go said.
He said that aside from compensating volunteer health workers, DOH must expedite the procurement of test kits, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and other necessary tools to equip hospitals.
Go said compensation is not the only issue here as the best way to help the health sector respond to this crisis is by sufficiently providing them with the tools and protection needed to do their job.
“Bigyan natin ng pansin ang mga reklamo ng ating front-liners – mga health workers, doctors at nurses. Pakinggan at tulungan natin sila dahil sila ang mas nakakaalam kung ano ang dapat gawin para matapos ang health emergency na hinaharap ng ating bansa (Let’s give attention to the complaints of our front-liners – health workers, doctors at nurses. Let’s listen and help them because their skills are very much needed to end this health emergency),” he added. (PR)