What we have been trying to avoid has happened. Local transmission was admittedly unavoidable despite the strict protocols in place set by our local government units. In fact, for whatever its worth, our LGUs deserve some congratulations for keeping the virus at bay for five months before local transmission was officially declared.
It really was just a matter of time with the arrival of repatriates who may have unknowingly contracted it elsewhere to, accidently cause the virus to spread locally.
Thus, it is a bit confounding that for the interest of public safety, the medical community are the ones hedging to give proper information to the consternation of public officials.
I was listening to an interview of Bacolod Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran who sounded so exasperated that at least two private hospitals here who have had positive cases in their midst, refuse to divulge information to the city government.
If we remember, there was a case in Iloilo City where eight medical doctors and staff from St. Paul’s Hospital got infected with COVID-19. That resulted to the hospital’s temporary lockdown as ordered by the city mayor, in order to get the full picture and have a more cohesive contact tracing and disinfection.
That’s why it was quite weird to learn that one private hospital in particular, is keeping information under wraps on how many of their staff have been infected, what measures are they taking as to testing and isolation of medical workers and hospital employees, when did the possible infection occurred so that patients who went there could voluntarily get themselves tested or go on self-quarantine, etc.
El Cid said that while he understands the issue of confidentiality, which can possibly lead to discrimination as it has happened in the past, it is vital to share information so that those who may have been in contact with the positives are made aware of the need to go on self-quarantine at least.
Surprisingly, the City Health Office is also hedging on giving out information. The city government has ordered that part of the protocol for those undergoing home quarantine will be posting such information on their gates or homes, for the information of the public. Yet here, we refuse to make that a standing protocol for a health facility that accepts tens or even hundreds of people on a daily basis? Whose interests are we protecting here?
Medical ethics, one told me, was probably the reason why the CHO refuses to give information about a particular hospital as I’ve been told that it involved practitioners who allegedly got infected. Yet what they probably forgot is there exists public health ethics as well which is relevant in guiding our officials to make public health decisions. And this is what El Cid has been driving at for how else can Mayor Bing Leonardia issue public health announcements if he is kept in the dark with vital information.
One hospital stated that it is their “policy to treat all patients and not to discriminate.” Surprisingly that statement has been removed and replaced with another. But again, let me point out that sharing factual information will not necessarily lead to discrimination but rather, a responsibility for the safety of the general public and to further curb the spread.
One example is Talisay City who has been transparent of their local transmission cases. The general public (at least majority, as there are quite a few who still make stupid comments against the infected bikers) did not throw mud at Talisay but rather, supported the LGU in their measures of isolating the infected patients and temporarily banning recreational biking. And that is responsible governance.
The fact that the transmission was caused through assisting an infected LSI who needed dialysis and from there, spreading it unknowingly among family, colleagues and friends, make it all the more important that transparency must be the name of the game.
It is now immaterial how that happened. Of course some would always want the historical facts as to what actually transpired for documentation purposes and so that we can improve policies in place.
But what is more important now is that we have a responsibility to the general public for their own health safety. As a health facility, that should be your topmost duty. To claim that you remain a “safe place” for health care needs becomes questionable when you are not transparent of your situation.
Public health ethics as stated by CDC require three things: identifying and clarifying the ethical dilemma posed; analyzing it for action and consequences; and resolving the dilemma by deciding which course of action best balances the guiding principles and values.
The hospital may have its own set of values as a profit-oriented health facility and will probably go to some length to protect their name. But the CHO’s responsibility is to the greater public and they must be reminded that protecting the public’s interest weighs more in this case.*