Serendipitous” is how business tycoon Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chair and chief executive officer of Ayala Corp., describes the decision of the country’s oldest business house to invest in the health-care space a few years back. The ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, after all, highlighted gaps in the Philippine health-care system and underscored the importance of primary and preventive care.
The group’s five-year-old health-care arm, AC Health, has consequently become even more relevant, thus strengthening the group’s resolve to invest more in the entire ecosystem: From pharmaceutical distribution (both online and offline) to primary clinic, full-service hospital operations, home services and telemedicine.
AC Health has spent around P300 million to date for its COVID-19-related initiatives, while likewise serving the other needs of its communities.
“It has been serendipitous that we were able to build up health-care practice at a time when the country needs it so much,” Zobel de Ayala said during the conglomerate’s stockholders’ meeting on Friday.
Ayala president and chief operating officer Fernando Zobel de Ayala reported that AC Health’s network of outpatient clinics continued to provide primary care and non-COVID-19 specialty consultations and diagnostics, while Healthway and FamilyDOC were serving as triage points for suspected COVID-19 patients.
AC Health has so far screened and referred nearly 6,000 suspected COVID-19 cases (formerly known as persons under monitoring) and over 5,000 suspect cases (formerly known as persons under investigation) between Healthway and FamilyDOC.
Furthermore, Healthway Greenbelt started on April 17 to offer chemotherapy services, recognizing the need of cancer patients and oncologists for a safer alternative now that COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed many of the main hospitals in the metropolis.
Pharmaceutical arm Generika continues to operate over 720 stores nationwide, while health technology unit AIDE also continues to provide home health care and medicine delivery services. The group has also invested in IE Medica, one of the major importers of pharmaceutical products, and its distribution arm, MedEthix.
This 2020, AC Health president Paolo Borromeo said the priority would be to remain responsive to local health-care needs in light of COVID-19, by extending front-line care through Generika drugstores, Healthway and FamilyDOC clinics, and as well as online platforms AIDE (home health care) and MedGrocer (online pharmacy).
“On health technology, the focus will be on continuing to promote telemedicine as an alternative access point for health-care services and creating an integrated digital health platform connecting online services and physical stores,” Borromeo said.
Telemedicine involves the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit.
“We will ramp up our online help and home services, which we are doing through AIDE and MedGrocer, recognizing that more patients need digital and remote access to care as well as online medicine delivery,” Borromeo said.
AC Health likewise continues to look for opportunities in general hospitals. It also continues to explore innovative specialty care formats such as the announced first dedicated cancer specialty hospital in the country, Borromeo said.
Early on and throughout this crisis, Borromeo said AC Health had been at the forefront of the Ayala group in tracking the pandemic, creating health advisories and policies for the entire conglomerate, and leading the charge in critical initiatives to help and protect patients, communities and employees.
Borromeo said the group had likewise invested a significant amount of capital both in building testing and treatment facilities for Ayala employees and the broader community. The group has upgraded QualiMed Sta. Rosa in Nuvali into a COVID-19 referral center and was working closely with partner Edwin Mercado to “explore enhancements in its other hospitals.”
An agreement was signed on April 20 between QualiMed and AC Health to expand the capabilities of the 100-bed hospital to manage more COVID-19 patients by building a triage holding area adjacent to the main hospital structure and a biosafety level 2 laboratory for COVID-19 testing. The hospital will also convert in-patient beds for exclusive use of COVID-19 patients, expand its current intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity and form a dedicated team of medical professionals, including volunteer clinical staff from the broader QualiMed, FamilyDOC and Healthway networks.
Borromeo said 45 beds in the main building would be available for COVID-19 patients; consisting of 30 in-patient beds plus 15 ICU beds. “We also have an additional 12 triage holding beds, expandable to 24 beds,” Borromeo said.
The upgraded facilities will be opened in phases beginning May 1. QualiMed Sta. Rosa is one of the four general hospitals within the QualiMed Health Network, a partnership between the Mercado medical group and Ayala Land.
AC Health is also providing testing facilities for Ayala group employees and their families, both in the form of rapid test kits and confirmatory PCR tests, covering about 12,000 front-liners across the Ayala group.
“The safety of our employees is critical, as we operate [during the extended enhanced community quarantine] a number of businesses that are vital to keep our society and economy functioning—banking, water, health care, telecom and manufacturing,” Fernando Zobel said. INQ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.