Bridging healthcare gap

While the government has consistently strived to improve medical access, the reality remains that access to hospitals providing specialized healthcare services is still limited.  Almost all specialty hospitals are located in Metro Manila.

We have here the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, among others. As these specialty hospitals are some of the best in our country, many of our Filipinos from the provinces who suffer from serious diseases are constrained to travel to Manila just to ensure that they receive quality, affordable and specialized healthcare services necessary for their conditions.

Having to worry over transportation and accommodation expenses on top of the already burdensome medical costs is simply too much, especially for our poor Filipinos who can barely earn enough for their daily needs.

As I visited many disadvantaged communities nationwide, scores of our kababayans sought me out not only for medical assistance but also for help with their transportation expenses going to Manila, where the only hospitals that can address their health needs are located.

The glaring need to bring these specialized medical services closer to our people in the provinces encourages me to continue advocating for a measure that will mandate the establishment of regional specialty centers nationwide. It is high time that we unburden our fellow Filipinos of unnecessary long travels and additional expenses just to get these services needed to save their lives.

On 17 May, I sponsored Senate Bill 2212, which seeks to mandate the Department of Health to establish specialty centers in existing DoH hospitals in different regions within five years, rather than constructing entirely new specialty hospitals — a cost-efficient, faster and practical solution to address the issue.

The proposal also aligns with the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., which includes the establishment of specialty centers as part of the health-related legislative agenda of the administration.

Moreover, if enacted into law, the DoH will be required to allocate capital outlay investments and work closely with the Department of Budget and Management to develop staffing patterns and standards for the specialty centers, securing positions for healthcare workers serving in these facilities.

Particular emphasis will be placed on establishing heart, lung, and kidney centers that replicate the capabilities of the National Specialty Centers in Metro Manila. This is also a way to decongest our existing specialty hospitals. For instance, the establishment of mental health centers in various DoH hospitals would help decongest the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong City.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Health, I believe that physical, emotional, and mental health are all equally important, and I will continue to support measures that would protect and promote the different aspects of health as a whole. Thus, on the same day, I also co-sponsored the proposed Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act filed by Senator Win Gatchalian.

If said bill is passed into law, a Care Center in basic education schools will be established. This will not only benefit the students but also the teaching and non-teaching personnel. Previously, I likewise filed SBN 1786 which aims to mandate Public Higher Education Institutions to establish Mental Health Offices in their respective campuses.

Meanwhile, together with my team, I was in Cagayan on 18 May to join in the Sarakat Festival, attend the inauguration of the Super Health Center, and provide aid to 1,500 indigents in the town of Santa Praxedes, where I was honored to be its adopted son.

We then headed to Lal-lo town where I witnessed the groundbreaking of another Super Health Center and also led another relief operation for 1,500 more struggling residents in the town.

The following day, I visited Jordan, Guimaras, where I attended a volleyball tournament as part of the Manggahan Festival of the province and personally checked on the operations of the Malasakit Center at Dr. Catalino Gallego Nava Provincial Hospital. We also aided 217 patients and 512 frontliners in the hospital while the Department of Social Welfare and Development assisted 118 qualified patients.

Later that day, we visited Buenavista, Guimaras where I led the groundbreaking of the town’s Super Health Center, spearheaded a relief operation for 1,462 indigents, and visited local infrastructure initiatives we earlier supported during the Duterte administration such as the Buenavista Wharf and seawall.

Last week, my outreach teams also helped many of our fellow Filipinos in need, including 50 indigents in Libertad, 50 in Salay, and 1,735 in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental; 153 in Agusan del Norte; 255 in Belison, Antique; 419 in Laurel, Batangas; 150 in Quezon City; 1,550 in Manila City; 666 in Limay, Bataan; 108 in Malolos City, Bulacan; 233 in Maria Aurora in Aurora; 366 in Kalawit and 333 in Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte; and 1,912 families affected by armed conflict in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao del Sur. Fire-hit households, including 21 in Lapu-Lapu City, 99 in Mandaue City, and 171 in Cebu City in the province of Cebu; and six in Angeles City, Pampanga were also assisted.

Aside from pushing for the establishment of regional specialty centers, I continue to support our Malasakit Centers and Super Health Centers to provide more accessible medical assistance programs and basic health services, respectively, to more of our fellow Filipinos.

It is my hope that, with the support of our fellow workers in the government, we can continue bringing medical services closer to the people, particularly the economically disadvantaged and those residing in far-flung areas, to help address the urgent need to bridge the healthcare gap across the country.

After all, it is enshrined in our Constitution, as a matter of state policy, that “the State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people” and that “the State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost.”

As elected representatives of the Filipino people, it is our solemn duty to realize these state policies. These programs and measures will not only protect and promote such rights but will make this a living testament to our collective desire to help provide a more comfortable life for Filipinos.

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