Commercial interests behind Fabella closure?

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Health workers, employees and patients of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital denounce the Department of Health (DOH) decision to close the national maternity facility.

On April 25, Fabella Hospital Director Esmeraldo Ilem announced that employees should vacate the hospital compound by June 8. The Department of Health (DOH) ordered the closure of Fabella allegedly due to a request from the Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC) to vacate the compound.

The government-run HGC, which owns the property, reportedly wrote a letter to the DOH in September 2015 requesting the agency to vacate Fabella Hospital.

The famed public maternity hospital in in Sta. Cruz, Manila sits on a property that is considered of high commercial value. Together with Manila Central Market and Manila City Jail, it comprises the 8.42-hectare Old Bilibid Compound. The HGC is eyeing the development of the property, considered as one of its “big-ticket assets”, into a mixed urban housing and commercial area.

The DOH decision has prompted Fabella hospital employees to ask, “Why is the government bending to the Home Guaranty Corporation?” The public hospital, they added, is considered the go-to maternity center for poor patients. It is often described as a “baby factory” because of the numerous infants, usually from indigent families, born in the hospital.

Fabella protest_AHW

According to Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) chairperson Robert Mendoza, they have been protesting plans of the DOH to dissolve the Fabella since it was first announced in 2007. They added that citing the structural weakness of the building as the reason to close down the hospital is a poor excuse. “They said the same reason in 2007, but why didn’t they resolve this safety issue if it was so urgent?” said Mendoza. According to AHW, the primary reason is still the commercial interests behind the Fabella Hospital.

Meantime, patients and medical operations are reportedly going to be transferred to the Philippine Heart Center or Lung Center of the Philippines which only have a 50-100 bed capacity. Employees, meanwhile, will be deployed to other public hospitals until Fabella hospital reopens in 2017 at its new location inside the DOH compound in Manila. The decision on where to house the students of the Jose Fabella School of Midwifery for a year is also still in question.

But the most affected, according to Mendoza, are the thousands of mothers who are now uncertain where to give birth if the closure of the hospital pushes through.

Fabella employees and health workers held protests on April 29 in front of Fabella and on May 4 at the DOH office to denounce the continuing scheme of commercialization and privatization of public hospitals. Earlier, the DOH also approved the privatization of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) in Mandaluyong City, the Philippine Children’s Medical Center and the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), but public pressure stopped the department’s bid. The patients and employees are now hoping the same for Fabella Hospital.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the hospital as “as a role model of the World Health Organization-Western Pacific Region Office for its essential newborn care programs, which have been proven to reduce infant morbidity and mortality.” Its midwifery school, meanwhile, was recognized by the Professional Regulation Commission in the Midwife Licensure Examination as one of the best performing institutions.

Report by Wilgin Soriano

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