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Massive hiring of nurses, not only call for volunteers

/ 05:01 AM March 26, 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) urges the government to conduct an emergency mass hiring of nurses, instead of putting out a call for volunteers.The severe understaffing of nurses in most hospitals in the country had been reported to the government by both public and private hospitals in the last three years. This has been further aggravated by the current pandemic, with nurses in regular wards assigned to take care of persons under investigation (PUIs) and confirmed COVID-19 cases. These nurses go on quarantine after their duty, and another set of nurses is pulled out from other wards to attend to the said patients. Worse, some nurses, doctors, and other health workers have become PUIs themselves due to exposure to the virus.

According to DOH Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire, as many as 75,000 cases are predicted in the next three months based on the data we have. Note that this is not yet the true picture of COVID-19 in the Philippines, which is unknowable without mass testing in the communities.

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Our country is simply not prepared for this pandemic. In terms of staffing, the DOH Bureau of Human Resource for Health said we have only 90,308 locally employed nurses in 2017, with only around 31,000 under DOH-retained hospitals. The DOH staffing standard is one nurse to 12 patients in the bedside setting, so the reality is far from ideal. FNU strongly recommends that at least one hospital per region (possibly the existing DOH Regional Medical Center), meaning 17 regional hospitals, be dedicated to cater to all PUIs and confirmed COVID-19 cases. Each hospital must be equipped with necessary facilities (isolation room, negative pressure room, emergency ward, and triage area) and with additional 240 regular nurses with Nurse 1 position, in anticipation of at least 40 PUIs/confirmed cases.

In addition, FNU recommends the immediate hiring of one regular nurse per barangay, meaning 42,000 Nurse 1 public health nurses who will be dedicated to COVID-19 public health education, assistance in massive community testing, contact tracing, and feedback on the status of persons under monitoring (PUMs). This massive hiring of nurses for both hospitals and public health will entail at least P5.5 billion to cover their basic salary and hazard pay for the initial three months of operation.

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There is enough budget to support the mass hiring of nurses in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. After President Duterte declared that the whole nation was now under a public health emergency, followed by a state of calamity declaration, the supplemental budget of DOH amounting to P1.6 billion was approved. In addition, the DOH has a contingency fund of P13 billion under the approved General Appropriations Act of 2020. The Office of the President also has a total of P1.7 trillion under the special purpose fund. If the Department of Tourism has been granted P14 billion from the P27.1-billion package to help frontliners fight the pandemic, why not listen to our appeal for the massive hiring of much-needed nurses?

MARISTELA P. ABENOJAR, RN, MAN, national president, Filipino Nurses United, [email protected]

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