THE government is requiring all hospitals and medical facilities in Metro Manila to promptly submit information, particularly on bed availability, to a new national command center established at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) headquarters in Makati City.
Speaking at a press conference following the launching of the One Hospital Command Center (OHCC) on Thursday, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said that for so that the national database to have real-time information, medical facilities are mandated to report to the national command center the number of their resources dedicated to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The challenge really here for us is to have a very good, precise, or appropriate data on real-time. This is when the encoders in the different private and public hospitals are able to give the data to be collated by the DOH in terms of the data collect and the bed tracker,” said Vega.
“We would like to enforce the compliance of all hospitals in terms of making sure that they would submit the data collected and bed tracker to our main national database so that we will have a good picture and details on where the problem is in terms of bed utilization,” he also said.
The establishment of the OHCC is the government’s response to the surge of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and medical facilities as well as in temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMFs), most of which are already in the “warning zone,” or have occupancy rates of between 30 to 70 percent.
Based on the August 4 data of the DOH, there is already a 53 percent bed occupancy rate nationwide with 9,104 beds occupied out of 17,206.
This includes 55 percent for ICU beds (780 occupied out of 1,429); 56 percent for ward beds (2,297 occupied out of 4,133); and 52 percent for isolation beds 6,027 occupied out of 11,644).
Under the OHCC system, there will be seamless coordination among all hospitals and TTMFs in Metro Manila as they will be provided with the knowledge on which particular facilities have available COVID-19 beds.
Similarly, private individuals will also be allowed to call their 24/7 hotline to inquire which hospitals a suspect, probable, or confirmed COVID-19 patient should be brought to.
“We can do coordinated care and referrals but we are also here for the strengthening of the capacity. That strengthening capacity would mean the ability to identify ready hospitals that can accommodate intensive care or rooms for moderate cases,” the health official said.
“We suggest to all, especially to hospital directors, that for positive and asymptomatic and mild cases, they can actually be treated in a quarantine or isolation facility. And that is the only way that we can decongest the hospitals,” Vega added.
Defense Secretary and National Task Force Against COVID-19 chairman Delfin Lorenzana said the OHCC system will “supervise” the use of hospitals and other treatment facilities in Metro Manila.
“IIsa lang ang layunin nito, ang pangasiwaan ‘yung paggamit ng ating ospital dito sa Metro Manila (It has only one purpose, to supervise the utilization of our hospitals in Metro Manila),” said Lorenzana, adding that the task force has been receiving calls from people infected with COVID-19 complaining about hospitals unable to accommodate them because they have already reached their full capacity.
Lorenzana said the OHCC will monitor which hospitals can still accommodate patients and those which are already full. He said the national command center can be contacted anytime of the day and will be ready to provide the necessary hospital information to callers.
MMDA chairman Danilo Lim said the agency has close to 8,000 workers, some of whom can be assigned to help run the national command center.
“MMDA is also sending personnel to work as encoders in some quarantine facilities of the government, but I can assure the public that this command center would be our priority since it is located inside our premises,” Lim said.
MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia said, “One way of doing that (flatten the COVID-19 curve) is to free up all the hospitals in Metro Manila. At least we have space for severe and critical, asymptomatic and mild cases would not blend in hospitals which have severe cases.”
NTF chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the 15-day modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) period imposed in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces is not enough to address, contain or put an end the spread of COVID-19.
However, Galvez said the two-week timeline gives the government the chance to improve and strengthen its current programs aimed at easing the impact of COVID-19 and eventually reach more people who may be infected to provide them with proper aid and treatment and protect others from further infection.
“As we expected, iyung 15 days na iyun is not enough to address or arrest or contain the new cases. But we will continue to work hard na iyong lahat ng strategies natin ay mapapababa natin ang new cases and at the same time minimize ang deaths (As we expected, the 15 days will not be enough to address or arrest or contain the new cases. But we will continue to work hard so that all our strategies will bring down the new cases and at the same time minimize the deaths),” he said.
President Duterte had placed Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under MECQ from August 4 to 18 due to the soaring number of COVID-19 infections in these areas.
Galvez said the government, during its talk with representatives of different health and medical associations in the country, had vowed to recalibrate its existing plans and use the quarantine period to intensify its testing, tracing, isolation efforts to reach more people.
He said the government is also using the MECQ period to orient local government units especially in “critical areas” about the different COVID responses and strategies being implemented, the proper implementation of zoning or localized lockdowns, and inspect existing health and isolation facilities to determine what improvements are needed, among others.
Galvez said that during the task force’s site inspections, it was discovered that canteens, smoking areas and other common spaces in workplaces where people gather, as well as densely populated informal communities were the most vulnerable and critical areas for COVID-19 transmission.
Galvez said the government will mobilize at least five Coordinated Operations to Defeat Pandemic (CODE) teams that will conduct regular visits to LGUs on a rotational basis. CODE is the government’s patient and community-focused response which is anchored on the National Action Plan (NAP) on COVID-19’s prevent-detect-isolate-test-treat (PDITR) strategy.
Galvez, who defended the designation of different czars for testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment, said having officials assigned to the different major government strategies aims to ensure that the government is able to address and prevent problems that could aggravate the pandemic in the country.
Public Works Undersecretary Emil Sadain said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is set to complete the construction of 261 isolation facilities in September which is expected to provide an additional 13,000 hospital beds for COVID patients.
Sadain said 156 facilities nationwide have been completed, while 105 facilities will be completed between August and September.
He said the DPWH has asked the contractors of the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) in Quezon City to expedite the construction of additional wards for COVID patients in the hospital.
Galvez said the EAMC wards will be dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients and will have 250 isolation beds and 30 intensive care unit beds.
He said the government is also adding 50 to 100 additional beds for COVID-19 at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Lung Center of the Philippines and the Quirino Medical Center which are all being used as referral hospitals forCOVID-19 patients along with the EAMC.
NTF deputy implementer and testing czar Vince Dizon said the government is ready to tap 1,700 more hotel rooms for COVID patients under the Oplan Kalinga program.
Dizon said there are already 1,700 available hotel beds but 1,400 are already occupied by mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients.
He said the government is also looking at adding some 3,000 more beds in the We Heal As One centers to accommodate more patients as the government intensifies its testing. Dizon said the government was able to do 35,000 tests on July 25, surpassing its goal of 30,000 tests per day by the end of July. A total of 1.616 million tests has so far been conducted by the DOH as of August 3. — With Victor Reyes, Jocelyn Montemayor and Noel Talacay