The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of providing support services to healthcare and frontline workers while the Philippines grapples to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, and better understand the characteristics of the lingering public health emergency.
For Edna Conda, chief of Rehabilitation and Recovery Management Section of the Office of Civil Defense-National Capital Region (OCD-NCR), the COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge on an unprecedented scale, "which has severely affected the overall living conditions of our citizenry, resulting in the abrupt closure of establishments, increase in unemployment, suspension of mass transportation, classes, including tourism activity."
"These include disruptions in the operation of our government revenues both at the national and local levels," Conda said.
"It is then imperative that we consider rehabilitation and recovery strategic interventions to mitigate loses and facilitate transition to the new normal. Our approaches set out to monitor immediate containment measures, which place a vital role in the restoration of our socio-economic conditions in the region," she added.
These unprecedented circumstances have brought many, often unforeseen challenges, which the Pasig City Government, through its Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office enumerated during Day 2 of the webinar series hosted by the OCD-NCR, in line with the observance of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) today, which also coincides with the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management held every 13th of October.
In the three-day webinar series--where resource speakers were requested by OCD-NCR to highlight the lessons learned for better disaster response, recovery, and rehabilitation amid the COVID-19 pandemic--presenter Bryant Wong, chief of the Pasig City DRRMO shared some insights on their local government pandemic response, particularly the importance of providing Mental Health Psychosocial and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) to all their healthcare and frontline workers.
The local DRRMO chief said one of the major issues faced by Pasig City during those times include its limited resources, particularly their small roster of health workers and few healthcare facilities.
"Alam naman natin na very challenging, alam ng mga responder 'yan. Alam ng mga ambulance responder na kulang sila sa staffing, tapos ang challenge dito kapag na-quarantine 'yung isa, or tinamaan 'yung isa at nag-positive, quarantine lahat. Mahirap talaga," he stressed.
"For the past one and a half to two years na very challenging itong pandemya. Imagine, 'yung normal na nagkikita-kita tayo, mga fellow-DRRMOs, malaking bagay 'yun, meron camaraderie, merong pag-uusap, merong tulungan. Ang challenge ngayon, how do we go online? Plus, 'yung trainings pa."
Wong said that during the course of their pandemic response, they found out that their healthcare and frontline workers were being exposed to aggravated psychological pressures, while fulfilling their respective duties and responsibilities.
"Ang pinaka-vital na natutunan namin during the pandemic, you need to support the front liners. You need to 'baby' them. Suportahan natin sila. Bigyan natin ng food, lalo na noong ECQ at MECQ (enhanced and modified enhanced community quarantine)," he said.
"Binigyan natin ng magagandang PPEs (personal protective equipment) becuase they really deserve them at kailangan nilang protected sila, dahil they're thinking na, after that, pag-uwi nila sa bahay protected dapat sila dahil may family sila," he added.
A debriefing conducted by the Department of Health (DOH) on its healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that they experienced fear, anxiety, concern and worry about:
1. Contacting the virus;
2. Being away from their families;
3. Delayed pronouncement when to be quarantined;
4. Being discriminated; and
5. Delayed release of RT-PCR result.
Some staff were recommended to seek consult with a mental health professional. They also underwent lectures about stress management and how to cope with stress.
"Ito 'yun isa sa pinaka-vital na program talaga na dapat all LGUs sana. 'Yung psychosocial and mental health. 'Yun po 'yung pinaka-vital na concern dito dahil 'yung psychosocial and mental health ay even kapag nagkaroon ka ng COVID napapaisip ka, then after that, ano na? Our psychosocial and mental health seminars malaking bagay po. 'Yun po kasi ang break nila sa trabaho, sila na humaharap sa mga COVID positive. So dahil sa training na'yun, kahit papano, nakikita nila na, uy, importante pala kami sa LGU or sa organization," Wong emphasized.
"May pa lang noong 2020, nag-start na po kami diyan, sa psychosocial care. A simple seminar, nag-partner kami sa Red Cross, nag-partner kami sa mga NGOs (non-government organizations). So iyan ang pinaka-inuna po namin talaga. 'Yung psychosocial-mental training lang ang hindi nawala sa amin," he added.
He said the MHPS intervention, which garnered a very positive response from their healthcare and frontline workers, is in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the city's Human Resource Department.
"Noong nakausap po namin ang mga nag-request, or 'yung mga nabigyan ng training, tuwang-tuwa naman sila kasi 'yun ang rest time nila during that time, and we are still coordinating with HR na i-cascade pa nila sa baba."
Wong then shared some of the strategies adopted by Pasig City to show genuine concern and care for their frontline workers including:
1. Promotion and permanent status for contractual workers;
2. Accommodation for front liners during the COVID-19 surge last 2020;
3. Rapid testing for front liners and employees;
4. Granting of hazard pay;
5. Granting of COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance for health workers; and
6. Free hospitalization and death benefit for those claimed by coronavirus.
"Kaya 'yung pag-permanent sa kanila, 'yun po ang pinaka-vital. Makikita ninyo po sa mga posts ni Mayor Vico [Sotto] ngayon [in social media] na na-permanent na lahat. At isa 'yan sa mga nagustuhan ng mga tao, lalo na ng mga front liners, na-secured sila na after six months hindi sila kinakabahan na pwedeng matanggal."
Wong said, through the initiative of Mayor Vico Sotto, some healthcare workers also received an immediate upgrade to their salary grade.
"Tapos 'yung pag-permanent sa mga CHOs (City Health Officers). Kasi under po ng city health namin, sa admin side, lahat 'yung PEU namin, o Pasig Emergency Unit, so almost 100 po 'yan na responders, mga 70 nurses po 'yan. 'Yung mga nurses naman dun, dahil sa mandato ng Department of Health at ng DBM (Department of Budget Management), from salary grade 11 to 15, ginawa naman po ng Pasig 'yan kaagad. Kaya, kahit papaano natuwa rin naman sila."
He said all frontline workers were also provided quality equipment and given priority in the RT-PCR testing and having quick results. "We also never re-used our PPEs, we dispose of them immediately and securely after every use," he said.
For front liners who got infected by COVID and those who unfortunately died in the line of service, he said, the city provided them with hospitalization and death benefit, respectively.
"Honestly, meron na po kaming staff ng DRRMO na namatay na 'yung iba ay dahil sa COVID. Pero ang assistance na ibinibigay ng city, kapag more than two years siya nag-work dito, may P50,000 plus 'yung cremation niya is free, as in no expense to the family," he added.
"Ang hospitalization nila ay zero billing, and there are a lot of assistance from the city government na kaya ng gobyerno na ibigay," he further said.
Wong said the Filipino Bayanihan culture and sharing of best practices were instrumental after the pandemic struck. These transcended LGU borders, politics, and even some of their collective capabilities that have become a source of inspiration up to this day.
"Ok lang mangopya [ng strategies], ok lang magpa-kopya kasi para sa tao naman. We're willing to hear from other LGUs on what to improve and we're willing to share. Maraming kailangang tahakin pa, at kung meron naman suggestions 'yung other LGUs, we're very happy to adopt it. Maraming learning ngayon, maraming pagsubok pero nalalampasan naman natin," he said.
Catch the 3rd part of OCD-NCR’s webinar series live on Thursday, Oct. 14, at 9 a.m. on the Office of Civil Defense-National Capital Region Official Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/civildefensencr. (PIA-NCR)