A somewhat less heralded aspect of the heroic work being done by Filipino health workers to stem the tide of COVID-19 is the epic lengths many of them go to just to get to work.
These include not just doctors and nurses, but also the technical, utility and service workers who keep the hospital running smoothly.
By the time they start their shifts at the infectious ward, many of these front-line workers had already walked or cycled many kilometers from their homes. At the end of the day, already bone-tired from a punishing shift, they have to do it again just to get home.
“Supertyphoon ‘Yolanda’ taught the Lopez Group (of Companies) an important lesson,” says Lito Santos, senior vice president of First Philippine Holdings, in an email interview with Lifestyle. “In the aftermath of a major catastrophe, the first step is to always make sure that your people are safe. Once this is done, one will be in a better position to help others.
“Seeing the rise of the pandemic in other countries, we made sure to prepare. Before the lockdown was imposed, our workforce was already predominantly working from home, and adjusting to this new flexible work arrangement. We also ensured that the critical workforce needed to keep our power plants running was well-equipped and sufficiently provided for in all their needs. After this, we started looking for other ways to help medical front-liners, and we didn’t have to look far.”
This was in early April.
From its offices at the Rockwell Business Center in Ortigas, Pasig City, Santos could see how the hospital staff of The Medical City (TMC) next door was walking to and from work.
“Others felt compelled to stay in TMC itself, making do with makeshift quarters and hospital rooms,” he said. “Some did so because they can’t get to work on time, having to walk all the way, while others wanted to minimize the risk of infecting family members. Sadly, there were also some who suddenly found themselves homeless, when the people they were living with (landlords, or even relatives) thought it unsafe to live with COVID front-liners.”
All in all, more than 100 TMC workers were in dire need of a place to stay. The Lopez Group reached out to Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Mayor Luis “Chavit” Singson, owner of the Metrotent Convention Center, which was just a short walk away from TMC and, therefore, ideal for the temporary quarters it had in mind. The Lopez Group offered to lease it, but Singson gave its use for free.
Through one of its businesses, First Balfour Inc., an engineering and construction company, the Lopez Group retrofitted the convention center in just seven days. There were sleeping quarters for up to 120 hospital workers, divided into male and female sections, complete with pillows, linen and blankets, plus a separate area for meals. The design ensured proper social distancing as well as privacy.
Three meals a day for 60 persons and drinking water were also provided at the Metrotent facility, with free WiFi and utilities.
Housing the front-liners in the tent also freed up a substantial number of hospital rooms that can now be used to take in more patients.
Easing hearts and minds
In a subsequent letter sent to TMC president Dr. Eugenio Ramos, Lopez Group chair Federico Lopez expressed hope that the Metrotent facility “… can somehow ease the hearts and minds of our dear TMC front-line workers. So that they can face their heroic job every day, a little bit more renewed and rested. A little bit more assured that they lessened the risk of passing on any infection to their families or other loved ones by sleeping instead at the Metrotent. And perhaps, with wider smiles, knowing that their next-door neighbors at the Rockwell Business Center, and those across Ortigas Avenue, are both happy and honored to be housed right beside them.”
Apart from the Metrotent facility, the Lopez Group has pitched in with the national struggle against COVID-19 in other areas.
It has donated P100 million for the retrofitting of the Eva Macapagal Super Terminal in the Manila South Harbor into a COVID-19 medical facility, primarily aimed at returning seafarers and overseas Filipino workers who need to undergo quarantine and treatment.
The group has also provided a P30-million grant to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for automated ribonucleic acid extractors, real-time polymerase chain reaction machines and other medical equipment and supplies. This will raise the testing capacity of PGH from its present level of only 150 tests daily to up to 1,500 tests daily.
The group is also providing free shuttle services for medical workers and other front-liners in Batangas through another subsidiary, the First Philippine Industrial Park in Sto. Tomas, Batangas.