The ‘Mona Lisa’ Medical Center

/ 05:06 AM January 21, 2019

The painting “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is said to be “the best known, the most visited, the most written-about, the most sung-about . . .” work of art in the world. And at $820 million, it is also considered one of the most valuable paintings in history.

There is also a popular song “Mona Lisa” made famous by Nat King Cole. Part of the lyrics go “many dreams have been brought to your doorstep, they just lie there, and they die there.” In the Philippines, the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) was often referred to as the “Mona Lisa” medical facility. For many years, our veterans and military retirees were brought to its doorstep and, as the song goes, “they just lie there and die there.” Of course, this is an awful exaggeration. Unfortunately, the name itself refers to a “memorial” facility, a facility that in the past was hampered by a limited budget, ineffective management practices, bureaucratic bungling and poor maintenance systems, the bane of most government-run facilities.


Today under a succession of hardworking, energetic and
forward-looking administrators led by Doctors Nona Legaspi and Dominador M. Chiong Jr. and supported by government agencies, particularly the Philippine Veterans Administration Office under Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the VMMC has entered into a new period of progress and advancement as the country’s only medical facility dedicated to the care of our veterans and retirees.

Let me enumerate some of the developments in recent years that have contributed to a new image for the VMMC.


Only last month, the center inaugurated a brand-new emergency room, possibly the largest in the country with 21 treatment rooms, two main nurse stations and a dedicated rapid assessment section, or triage room. The ER meets all the standards for a modern tertiary emergency facility.

The operating room complex has increased from four to eight operating suites and the acquisition of new and advanced equipment has contributed to greater efficiency and safety in
surgical procedures.

The outpatient department (OPD) complex houses 25 air-conditioned clinics and a large waiting area. With quality management systems and protocols in place, the problem of long waiting times was satisfactorily addressed. The OPD handles 500 to 600 patients a day and a few years ago was awarded ISO certification by the Anglo Japanese American accreditation body.

The renal dialysis unit has increased its dialysis machines from 30 to 70 units, making it the largest dialysis provider in the country, surpassing the National Kidney Transplant Institute. The center is one of two hospitals in the nation with an established peritoneal dialysis program. In the works is an ambitious kidney transplant center for military retirees.

And now for some issues that call for remedial action.

As a walk-in retiree, I proceeded one morning to the VMMC’s main lobby and asked for information about possible lab tests for my health concerns. I was directed to the OPD, a good par 5 distance from the lobby. At the OPD, I was told I needed a VMMC ID and that I could secure one at the VMMC Social Services Office. I went to this office behind the main OPD building. It was a facility that has seen better times and should undergo a complete makeover. The social services people informed me that to secure the ID, I should present my AFP ID, copy of my retirement order (which I normally do not carry with me) and two 1 x 1 photos. For my spouse, a copy of our marriage contract. All these meant I would need a return trip for my VMMC ID.

Now if I were a retiree from the province, this means a delay of several days or even weeks, plus additional expenses. It is therefore important that the center, possibly in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, disseminates this basic information to all retirees to prevent delays and frustrations.


As I walked around the premises, I saw that the toilets were well-maintained with adequate running water, except that there were no seat covers for the toilet bowls and no toilet paper available. For some reason, most government facilities have this same maintenance problem. What happened with the seat covers of our toilet bowls?

Another observation I made was the presence of a number of signs that read “Bawal ang fixer.” This indicates a lingering problem that one does not normally expect in a hospital. You could see such signs in tax collection or regulatory agencies, but not in a medical facility.

One last word. The state of military medical facilities is a reflection of the care and concern that senior defense officials have for our soldiers and retirees. As shown in the case of the VMMC, we are appreciative of their solicitude and constant endeavor to advance the welfare of our people.

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TAGS: Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, Nat King Cole, Ramon Farolan, Reveille, veterans memorial medical center, VMMC
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