Located at the southern tip of Bataan Province, Mariveles is home to the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB). In 2018, it was the second richest municipality in the Philippines, according to a Commission on the Audit report. Job-seekers from other provinces flock to the area.
A fifth of Bataan’s population lives in Mariveles, making it the most populous of the province’s 11 municipalities and one city. Yet health services for its residents used to be limited to those provided by the rural health unit, barangay health stations, private clinics, and the Mariveles Mental Health Hospital. The nearest hospital was over an hour’s drive away in Balanga City.
Ria (name withheld upon request), a long-time Mariveles resident and whose husband works in a FAB locator, recalls how she had to fight for space in a packed bus to get to the Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) in Balanga City, where she gave birth to her first-born in 2019. Each two-way trip that included tricycle rides would cost her almost P200, which for Ria was “too much, especially since we’re on a tight budget.”
White elephant to white knight
Governor Albert Garcia acknowledged the deficiency, saying in a February 2018 interview with ZFF, “There are RHUs (rural health units), lying-in clinics but no hospital so when an accident occurs, they still need to bring the victim to Balanga. Plus, the Freeport is there, the workers, the population, so it needs a functioning hospital,” then he added, “That is why by hook or by crook this year (2018), the hospital will open” referring to the then-unused hospital, which had its roots to the vision of the governor’s late father.
As a congressman in 2011, Enrique Garcia introduced a bill to build a Mariveles hospital, which led to remodeling and then a retrofitting in 2017 of an existing building that stood idle since, earning it the monicker Mariveles Display Hospital.
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But the Mariveles District Hospital (MDH) would finally open in September 2018. It rendered out-patient and emergency services. And once it opened, its progress was fast.
In August 2019, it was licensed to operate as an infirmary. In March 2020, it was upgraded to a licensed Level 1 hospital just two weeks after it was designated a COVID-19 referral hospital.
It has discharged the province’s youngest COVID-19 patient (3 years old) and the oldest couple (80 years old).
Tracing infected and looking after their welfare
Ria was among MDH’s COVID-19 patients. She was exposed to a friend who had the virus. She was immediately tracked, tested in the RHU, and picked by MDH personnel after results showed she was positive. At the MDH emergency room, hospital personnel explained the tests and treatment she would be undergoing. For Ria, everything happened quickly, efficiently.
Thanks to ZFF’s interventions, the provincial government had the proper protocols in place.
“Our added knowledge because of our partnership helped us to cope better with the pandemic,” Garcia said during the governors’ learning forum last June 30.
For Ria, the two-week hospital stay was made easier by the health workers.
“I gained another family there,” said Ria, who praised her doctors and nurses for their patience, courtesy, and genuine service. “You can feel they were there to serve and not merely work.”
From her first day until her discharge, Ria did not have to shell out money. “I had my medicines. I was fed on time. They gave me masks and soap for handwashing. Upon my discharge, I did not have to pay for anything. Plus, when I was discharged, they gave me a set of easy-to-understand tips to avoid COVID-19.”
Fortunately, too for Ria, she did not suffer any discrimination when she returned home. The same cannot be said of MDH health staff, who were not welcome in their neighborhoods. So the Mariveles government and community responded. The local government opened a dormitory for the staff. Community members gave them meals and comfort food like milk tea. A FAB locator manufactured face masks for the health front-liners.
Service delivery network
Thankfully, too, its health service delivery network (SDN) has finally improved. MDH chief Dr. Hector Santos, who also oversees the Orani District Hospital, said the functional SDN has made it easier to refer and track all patients and not just those with COVID-19.
Governor Garcia said likewise, “There is that highly elusive service delivery network during normal times when it was a challenge for all LGUs to cooperate toward an efficient SDN. Because there was a crisis, and with help from our partners, we were able to integrate this health system that is now addressing our COVID response.”
Bataan’s proximity to Metro Manila contributed to its numerous COVID-19 cases. Acting swiftly and decisively to the crisis, however, has kept the pandemic manageable.