Dr. Nikki Jara-Tantoco, who’s a medical resident at the Philippine General Hospital, e-mailed me to update me on the activities of the Sagip Buhay Medical Foundation or simply called Sagip.
For the last 20 years or so, the foundation has been living up to its name of saving lives at the premier government hospital, which unfortunately has a lot more patients than funds to sustain its operations. A nonstock, nonprofit organization, Sagip provides financial support to poor patients at the PGH medical wards, intensive care units and emergency room.
Sometime ago, I bumped into PGH director Dr. Jose Gonzales at the Manila Doctors’ Hospital, and he told me how difficult it is to make do with the limited budget the hospital is provided, considering the number of patients that flock to PGH, being the country’s premier hospital. He has to scrimp on their expenses to the point that he has ordered all lights and airconditioners turned off in rooms when no one is using them.
Even lights in some corridors of the hospital have been reduced, making it an eerie experience to walk alone with just a dim light bulb illuminating every 20-30 meters of some corridors. I had goose bumps when I did, as I couldn’t help but recall all the creepy tales of ghostly appearances when we were still training in the hospital in the ’80s.
The last time I heard, PGH still has unpaid bills with Meralco, running into millions. I hope Meralco puts business sense aside and not cut the electric supply of the hospital.
Around 5,000 patients are admitted yearly at the PGH Medicine wards and ICU. “Most of these patients and their families are not able to save up for that unfortunate incidence of illness,” says Nikki. “Although the PhilHealth insurance coverage has somehow helped in terms of financing the costs of admission to the hospital, the reality remains that most of the laboratory and diagnostic examinations and medications remain expensive to the ordinary Filipino earning minimum wage,” she adds.
Although doctors at PGH are trained to diagnose and evaluate patients using mainly their “clinical eye” with the minimum of laboratory examinations, even the most astute clinician must rely on these tests to confirm their initial diagnosis or to see if the patient is getting better with treatment. The poorest patients classified as Class D by the Medical Social Services get their basic tests done for free, but they are required to pay a fee of something like P20 per additional test done.
“Maybe it might not sound much, but it is common to have a patient with just P100 at hand. Between P800 for an antibiotic of one dose and the panel of blood tests, that P100 simply disappears into thin air,” relates Nikki.
Many of the patients at the charity wards ask for financial assistance from their congressmen, senators and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Organization or Pagcor but the process and documentation required take time to complete. “When emergencies come into play, the tedious paperwork for that much-needed peso for healthcare seems somewhat cruel,” says Nikki.
Nikki jokes that as a resident at the PGH not only is it required to have a medical degree, it also requires a certain skill in being a social worker. “Finding the extra means for a family who is in distress because of their member being in a critical condition, with their backs to the wall because of financial incapacitation, has been a common challenge for everyone who has undergone the training, even since the ’70s,” she says.
Sagip has provided bridging financial assistance to many medical patients so they could have the much-needed dose of an essential medicine, or an important laboratory examination. It helps around 17 to 20 percent of the total admitted patients in the medical wards. “Sagip is making a difference—one life, one family at a time. It may not seem much but in truth, for that patient who was able to go home, return to work because of that financial assistance rendered, it creates a world of hope,” says Nikki.
A big chunk of the funds of Sagip is raised from the annual golf tournament, and this year, the Sagip Buhay Golf Classic will be held at the Villamor Golf Course on April 24. Those who would like to take part in any way may contact Dr. Melissa A. Llanto at +63917-5319-811 or e-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next time we buy a Starbuck’s coffee or even just a Magnum ice cream, let’s remember that the amount we spend for these may already go a long way in saving a poor patient.