Satellite specialty hospitals pushed in remote localities

Congress is being prodded to frontload passage of a law establishing satellite specialty hospitals in remote areas.

In filing the enabling legislation, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara vowed to press for timely enactment into law of Senate Bill (SB) 93 intended to “provide all Filipinos with easier access to specialized medical care,” particularly those residing in far-flung countryside barangays.

 Once passed, SB 93, lined up as a priority legislation for the 19th Congress, will pave the way for establishing satellite specialty hospitals in remote provinces geographically isolated from their regions’ tertiary care hospital.

All operated by the Department of Health (DOH), these specialty hospitals including the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center are located in the National Capital Region.

“In going around these so-called specialty hospitals,” Angara noticed “most of the patients came from far-flung regions, including some from Maguindanao and General Santos City.” He observed that this entails “huge expenses for the patients and their relatives who also need to travel far to get medical treatment.”

The lawmaker lamented, “There are still many more provinces that remain underserved when it comes to health services,” referring to isolated barangays yet to hear of regional tertiary care hospitals. “Because of that, we are hoping the government would also put up specialty hospitals attached to existing provincial hospitals.”

Angara recalled he already earlier filed the same bill unpassed in the previous 18th Congress, but added he is now banking on the backing of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., making him “optimistic the measure will have a better chance of being enacted into law.”

He reminded that in his State of the Nation Address, “The President said medical services must be brought to the people and not the other way around.”

Quoting the President, he said: “Napakinabangan natin nang husto ang malalaking specialty hospitals gaya ng Heart Center, Lung Center, Children’s Hospital at National Kidney and Transplant Institute. Kaya maliwanag na hindi lang dapat dito sa National Capital Region, kundi maging sa ibang parte ng bansa kailangan madagdag ng ganitong uri ng mga pagamutan,” as the President said.

As provided in the bill, the existing four specialty hospitals will be required to establish satellite hospitals among identified regions to be managed and operated pursuant to their respective charters.

Prioritization in the selection of locations for the satellite specialty hospitals will be based on the top burden of disease in the region; the legal mandates of laws such as the Integrated Cancer Control Act, Mental Health Act, and the Expanded Senior Citizens Act; and provinces that are geographically isolated from the region’s tertiary care hospital.

Apart from the efforts to put up satellite specialty hospitals, Angara asserted the “need to produce more medical personnel, particularly specialists, to serve in these facilities.”

The senator suggested that one way to address this is through Republic Act 11509, referring to the Doktor Para sa Bayan law wherein the state-supported medical scholars will undergo a mandatory return of service at public health institutions, including the specialty hospitals.

As one of the co-authors of the law, Angara assured the Doktor Para sa Bayan will serve as a long-term solution to the manpower issues of the country’s public health facilities.

He added that another initiative could also help in addressing this issue is the proposed establishment of hospitals in state universities and colleges (SUC) that offer medical degrees.

Filed as Senate Bill 92 under the present Congress, the proposed Health Facility Augmentation Act will not only increase the hospital bed capacity, but will also provide medical students with the training they require within the SUCs where they are enrolled. 

Angara asserted, “we would like to see more SUCs offering medical degrees so that more Filipinos who want to pursue a career in medicine would have a greater opportunity to do so wherever they are situated.”