Tears and Resilience at Flooded Philippine Hospital

by VR Sreeraman on  October 1, 2009 at 12:34 PM Environmental Health
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Doctor Joanna Remo and her staff could only weep as muddy waters overwhelmed their public hospital in eastern Manila at the height of tropical storm Ketsana.
 Tears and Resilience at Flooded Philippine Hospital
Tears and Resilience at Flooded Philippine Hospital

Medical equipment and medicines were rendered useless as the hospital's first floor was swamped on Saturday afternoon, and about 200 patients were hastily transferred to the second floor.

Just hours after the waters started to recede, hospital staff raced to clear the floodwaters and get operations back to normal.

Remo, who has worked with the hospital for the past 20 years and is its chief medical officer, said she broke down and her knees buckled when she saw all the medical equipment covered in mud.

"But we had to fight back to restore our operations quickly because we knew that people will need us most during this time. We could not afford to shut down," she said.

"I also cried because of the pain seeing all our equipment gone. We built this hospital."

The Jose 'Amang' Rodriguez medical centre -- which grew from a small emergency hospital in 1965 into a 200-bed facility -- is the only government hospital in Manila's eastern suburbs, serving the residents of seven municipalities which were among the hardest hit by the disaster.

Saturday's rains inundated 80 percent of the Philippine capital and surrounding regions, killing at least 246 people and affecting more than 2.2 million others.

Remo's grief over the floods' destructive force was shared by Antoinette Pangilinan, the hospital's chief resident pediatrician.

"All of us cried when we saw what happened to all our equipment, but we still had to go on doing our work," she said.

"Many of us had to work 48 and 72 hours non-stop just to keep operations running."

By Monday, the hospital was back to treating victims of the city's worst flooding in four decades, despite water still covering some sections of the building.

Other hospitals unaffected by the flooding lent medical equipment and medicine while staff, including some whose own homes were also inundated, worked non-stop for up to 72 hours to get operations running again.

"As of today, we're still in the clean-up process but we are already providing outpatient and emergency services, including emergency surgery," Remo said at the hospital's crowded emergency ward as workers mopped up remaining floodwaters nearby.

Many of their patients were children brought from overcrowded evacuation centres complaining of diarrhoea, raising the spectre of water-borne infections.

Others were treated for lacerated wounds after stepping on rusty metal or glass shards while walking on the city's water and mud-covered streets. They were given anti-tetanus shots.

Remo said the hospital's engineer estimated that equipment damage alone stood at about 350 million pesos (7.4 million US), a large sum for a hospital that depends on government for its budget.

With medical costs on the rise at private medical centres, government hospitals play a vital role in the Philippine health care system.

But doctors and hospital administrators often complain of budget constraints and have to work under difficult circumstances, especially in far-flung towns and provinces.

Remo said all the help they have received so far is just a stop-gap measure.

"For the long term, we need to rebuild the hospital," she said.

Source: AFP

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