The Bumpy Road Less Travelled

by Fr. Jun Jungco Jr., Ofm

(The following article is a contribution of this writer for the Coffee Table Book in the celebration of the hospital’s 10th Foundation Anniversary. This is a personal experience of the same author who worked under obedience as the Bursar of Christ the King College when the construction of the hospital began; and later on, when he was also the Bursar of the newly opened health care institution. This is more on the perspective of the business or the financial side of the hospital as we journeyed during the first three years of the hospital’s operation from 2007 to 2010. Then, the hiatus of this writer for a period of six years away from the hospital for a change of assignments from 2011 to 2016 and back again by May 2016 until the day of this writing.)

The Baby Bumps of the Maternity Clinic

It was July 19, 2006 as we shuttled to Tacloban heading for the government agencies in the region for all the necessary permits and licenses to be obtained from the Department of Health ( DOH ) , the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ( D E N R ) and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). I already have the impression that in opening a third level hospital the difficulties that you have to hurdle is just formidable and infinite. There were so many papers to be completed; the licensing, the inspection, clearances, signing, interviews, appearances, and just name it you will have it. The construction of the new hospital is now in full blast and here we are traveling the highway with a rickety old van from CKC the only car that we have. The friars were just reeling from the fire that leveled the entire monastery to the ground more than a year ago and the request for a new car was not granted by the province. At that time, the roads were so terrible, it was a nightmare to travel as the whole stretch from Calbayog City to Calbiga was pockmarked with holes purposely drilled for the national rehabilitation project. An old rickety car plus a very bumpy road is a fatal combination. It was dusty and travel was so stressful and tiring that it would last more than five hours.

I was still the Bursar of Christ the King College until this time and apparently, the provincial council has already eyed me to be the Bursar of the new hospital. My liquidation for the expenses of today’s travel describes the original intention of the construction – a maternity clinic. Yes, it was just a maternity clinic. It was never a hospital that we envisioned to build. The original structural plan that is still existent today and in safekeeping would also describe it as a maternity clinic. The plan has evolved fast and quick; from a maternity clinic, then to a base hospital, then to a tertiary level hospital. It was a fast development and continued to change as CHED would also issue endless memoranda on the change of policies for the college of nursing in a short span of time.

The Bumps Become Bumpier

Things developed faster than we thought. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) now requires us to have a base hospital for the CKC College of Nursing. We are now in danger of losing the license for the course if we cannot provide a base hospital. This was the time when nursing schools would just erupt out of nowhere to explore the bonanza of the lucrative foreign nursing job market so that even computer schools would open a nursing course. True to its strictest sense, CHED closed down more than a hundred errant nursing schools all over the country a year later. Thanks be to God, the CKC College of Nursing was spared. Our efforts paid off. The administration now envisions a larger program for the needs of the College. So we scoured the hospitals within the locality, offer to upgrade to meet CHED requirements for a possible collaboration.

The Necessary Stops

First Stop – Calbayog District Hospital. We made the ocular inspect- ion of CDH for the possibility of a tie up. Dr. Arlene P. Lim, MD entertained us for the guided tour and inspection. At that time she was still working as the medical officer of the said public hospital. In the weeks and months that followed, things never went rosy with the negotiations, there were some conditions from the provincial government in Catbalogan that were difficult to meet and we abandoned the possibility.

Next Stop – St. Camillus Hospital. Fr. Aristelo Miranda, a Camillian religious was the hospital director then and he was very accommodating to us during our ocular inspection as we talked about a possible collaboration. We were happy then that a bigger possibility is in the offing. It took many months that a decision was finally made that there would be tremendous difficulties on both sides if the plan would push through. So we abandoned again the possibility. But before this decision was made, for the moment our nurses would make their tour of duties in the two above mentioned hospitals for affiliation.

The Final Stop – Back in the new friary rebuilt a little less than two years after the devastating fire, at about six o’clock in the evening every day before the vespers of our divine office, the candle would be lit and I would see Fr. Prisco A. Cajes, OFM the president of CKC at that time, kneeling, praying before the Blessed Sacrament in the friary chapel. It was not really meant for a holy hour but the tabernacle is open in exposition. We stormed heaven with prayers. The need for a base hospital lingered.

The requirements from CHED were laid upon the burden of the president. I understood very well that the administration was in a difficult situation. This daily prayer together with the whole community went on for days and weeks. Then I was dispatched to Cebu City to scout and find a possible base hospital for the College of Nursing friendly enough to accom modate us. I spent many days scouring virtually all the hospitals in Cebu City asking for audience with directors and administrators even with a chief nurse to avail of their services as a base hospital only to be told that I was too late for the search and they have been filled up even as long as six years before. In the hospital where another Franciscan doctor worked Dr. Hermilo A. Villason, OFM who will soon be assigned in the new hospital would also reiterate that they are all filled up and cannot accommodate anymore. Hospitals also have their own nursing schools and some colleges with higher nursing population cannot even accommodate their own students so they have to find other base hospitals as far as Bohol and other neighboring islands in order to meet the CHED ratio.

There was no more room in this bustling Cebu as they are already moving outwards in search for base hospitals. The base hospital problem was finally resolved after we negotiated with a government hospital in Iloilo City the Western Visayas Regional Hospital (now Western Visayas Medical Center) through Dr. Dennis T. Tayo, OFM. Of course, with all the difficulties of distance, travel, and monitoring, the dean, the students, and the parents complained and so we stopped. Time is now ripe for the construction of the new tertiary level hospital, the first of its kind ever in the whole island of Samar.

The Baby Bump Grows Big

I was the bursar of CKC at that time serving as the conduit for the transfer of funds coming from the provincial procuration in Manila needed for the construction. Dr. Dennis T. Tayo, OFM is one of the two brothers we have in the province who is a medical doctor was recalled from his assign- ment to start working in the hospital. A skeletal preparatory team was created and headed by him and composed of Mrs. Arnita P. Sabong who was also recruited and has resigned from her high paying job in Manila and at present, the Hospital Administrator; Dr. Arlene P. Lim, MD who was still connected with Calbayog District Hospital who eventually resigned and switched as full time physician and now heading the Outpatients Department (OPD); Mrs. Eduarda C. Adora who became the head of the Medical Records Section; Mr. Lloyd A. Marcial, the first personnel manning the Information desk and also a computer technician; Marissa G. Amarille who was connected to Judge Rosales Law Office; and Ma. Cristina B. Manaog the nurse from the CKC Guidance and Clinic also known as Bona who later became a part of the nursing staff of the hospital.

While the skeletal team worked for the initial planning and admin- istration of the emerging hospital, it was also a source of confusion for the CKC Bursar’s Office. The skeletal staff is a temporary group whose members neither form part of the CKC employee’s roster nor a part of the new hospital which, still, has no structural offices yet. There was no communication from the CKC administration either or a protocol from the provincial office about the temporary setup and with quite a good number of workers to compensate, how in the world are we going to pay them? So we scampered for funds to pay for their remuneration. They asked: are we included in CKC’s Christmas party? Do we have 13th month pay? And the like. Funny as it is, but really even before the birth of OLPHI, this skeletal group has already expended a worthy amount of sacrifice for the future hospital. May God bless all of them for their heart rending contribution for what they have started. I surmised I could have made the lives of these people a little difficult in those days because of oversight.

Nevertheless, all was well, and they have started working for the initial phase of the administration of a hospital that will soon rise in the heart of downtown Calbayog. I became a part of this skeletal team because of my role in the transfer of funds and little did I know that I will also become the new Bursar of the hospital and I started going trips with them especially Dennis, Arnee, and Arlene traveling in the roads with craters as huge as that of the moon to DOH and DENR in Tacloban. Can you ever imagine rising as early as two or three in the morning and hit the bumps in the road just to arrive before the offices would open? Harrowing, and we did this many times. While we deal serious business matters we also have developed friendships from the good staff of these agencies. Dedication to work really bears fruit. The staff from these agencies are strict to the letter but they have also been very facilitative with our needs. This will soon reflect the fact that OLPHI being a new hospital has become a reference hospital by DOH for all newly constructed hospitals as a model hospital. On February 8, 2010 OLPHI is awarded the Phil- health Benchbook accreditation as a Center for Excellence, almost unimaginable in a poverty stricken province like Samar.

The Baby Bump Has Become a Baby

As early as December 2005 construction materials began piling up. At the onset of the summer of 2006 just in time for the hot season, construction began. The main building rose fast and almost in congruence with the construction of the annex building that immediately followed which has also risen fast, suddenly, after a year, the skyline of the downtown has changed so much. I remember reading the blogs in the internet with Calbayognons posting pictures of the hospital and their friends from other cities asking what are these buildings in Magsaysay and Rueda all about? Rueda Street instantly became a favourite promenade as OLPHI became a standout because the unsightly houses were now relocated through the auspices of Hon. Mel Senen S. Sarmiento who was the city mayor at that time. Thanks to the kind and very supportive former mayor Mel. Rueda Street was once only accessible by walking . Today, it has transformed into a swank combination of hospital, college, university, restaurant and business district with the glittering CKC second gate ready for opening. Since then, prices of real estate properties lying dormant for years sky-rocketed spurred by the recent development. The OFM Franciscans spearheaded the development and change of the urban setting and it continues even to this day with the opening of a wide-concept mall and one-stop supermarkets like the Super Metro.

On May 31, 2007, the faint little cry of the new-born baby was heard; the day OLPHI saw the light of day. It was the soft opening of the hospital – outpatients only and it was a grand euphoria. Remember that we never have any experience running a hospital and it is indeed a road less travelled. As the days progressed the hospital seemed to be lacking in almost all of anything even with the most careful planning and preparations. On July 8. 2007, OLPHI now began the admission of in-patients. After a month, we celebrated and fixed the foundation day of the hospital; on the Solemnity of the Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola on August 2, 2017. And on this side of my story is really unbelievable how we went on for the first three years. The financial survival of this hospital is near miraculous.

The New-born Baby is Sick

And how was the acceptance of the public? I was convinced the people were not ready for the new and excellent hospital. It was not a part of the lifestyle of the general public that a hospital would cost them a lot for their patients. It was later on in the Capability Building Seminars that the people shared their views that just by the mere sight and standing before a huge hospital they would immediately think that it is expensive. This mentality sank to the subconscious of the people that hospitalization in OLPHI costs a terrible price when in fact, it’s not. And so the nasty exchange of words even reached the internet and stayed for quite a time. Even some of the employees were not ready. It is difficult for them to accept the fact that the new hospital applies a rigid structure, and a strict discipline for the sake of quality health care service. As probations ended, some were so disgruntled to know that they do not qualify for the regular employment. As the hospital opened, the work shops, the training were also going on simultaneously. The staff were sent to Tacloban, Manila, and Cebu even as far as Ilocos in the north to hone their skills. Neither the city is ready with their City Ward as it also cannot cope up with the influx of indigent patients. The hospital administration began to tap the services of the charity foundation, health insurance, and welfare services. As a pay hospital it is financially afloat, but as a charity hospital it needs the foundations and the welfare agencies of the government.

This is an excerpt of the letter I sent to the Council on February 18, 2008, six months after the opening of the hospital. “We are aware that the hospital opened its doors to the public with very little resources invested except the donations received to fund our operations. The euphoria of building the hospital operated by the new custody has already dissipated. All the praises and affirmations that we build the hospital and that it is made possible because of some mysterious interventions of which I firmly believed, should merit a huge gratitude on our part for the grace of such magnitude received by us. Now, we have to face the difficult reality that there are really no funds to run the hospital and I would like to present to the body the developments as we covered the months of operation since the day we opened.”

The hospital opened to the public with a mere 700K in the bank. After a month’s payroll, this is entirely wiped out. At 56.5M financed by the province, the hospital stands as two concrete buildings with some of the most necessary equipment only present. Now it can be told that there are only two cash infusions during the initial operations of the hospital: the balance of the donations received from the generous benefactors at 1.29M which serves as the capital in cash ( through the fund raising assistance of Fr. Antonio Ma. L. Rosales, OFM coordinating with the Forbes benefactors); the capital infusion from the Custody for the pharmacy at 1.27M. And no other capital infusion follows after this, but, in the meantime we now begin to receive the returns from Philhealth, laboratory, pharmacy and the rest of the income generators of the hospital including City Ward payments from the city. On a later period, the foundation also helped and the PCSO with a special grant. And for the record, the hospital was in deficit for the next five long years, from 2007 to 2011. By fair analysis, the pay hospital subsidizes the charity hospital. It was in 2012 that the hospital finally got out from the breakeven status.

The Baby Has Grown Robust

Five years from the year 2012 and so many things have transpired in the financial sector of the hospital. Fast forward from the year 2016 to the present, this servant of yours is back for a reassignment to this hospital. The present national government under President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be more adept and dedicated towards a proficient health care system especially for the poor and the less fortunate. This is very visible and well felt in the hospital as the acronym Philhealth, DSWD and PCSO become the by words of the inpatients even to those who can afford to pay their hospital bills. I can safely evaluate now that the government is successful in its initial eradication of poverty in this specific area of health care especially to the poor and the underprivileged. The administration can now focus to the inner core of the hospital’s mission – Saving Lives, Molding Minds.

Finally, the bumpy roads are now levelled and more people are traveling. There are occasional bumps but they are small and they disappear. BRAVISSIMO to the Our Lady of Porziuncola Hospital, Inc. for the journey of a decade. May God bless us all.