House panel OKs creation of Samar Island Medical Center

Martin Romualdez & Yedda Marie K. Romualdez
Tingog Sinirangan Party-List Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.

THE House Committee on Health on Wednesday approved a bill creating the Samar Island Medical Center to address the medical needs of the people in the country’s third largest island, especially now with the serious threat of contagious diseases like the dreaded coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

During a virtual hearing, the panel chaired by Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan approved House Bill (HB) 1153 or the Act Establishing the Samar Island Medical Center and Appropriating Funds Therefore filed by Tingog Sinirangan Party-List Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez and House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of an effective and comprehensive healthcare system. Government must improve our system and continue working towards accessible healthcare for all,” said Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, chairperson of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children.

In her sponsorship, Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez underscored the importance of establishing a tertiary government hospital to address the urgent medical needs of Samarnons.

"The island of Samar is the third largest island in the country and is also home to three provinces--Northern Samar, (Western) Samar, and Eastern Samar--and to a population of more than two million residents. However there is not a single tertiary government hospital on the island," Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez told the panel.

"Patients and their families have to travel four to five hours from Northern Samar, three to four hours from Eastern Samar, and two to three hours from Samar just to get to the nearest government tertiary hospital located in Tacloban (Leyte).

With these three provinces already having one of the highest poverty incidence in the country, the availability of accessible and affordable hospital care is one of its most pressing needs," Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez explained in lamenting the absence of a single government tertiary hospital in the island.

Department of Health Region VIII Director Minerva Molon strongly backed the Romualdez couple’s bill, calling it "laudable in intent and purpose."

"The prospective beneficiaries for the Samar Island Medical Center will extend to the three provinces of Western Samar, Northern Samar, and Eastern Samar, including the cities of Catbalogan and Borongan," Molon told the panel via Zoom.

Moreover, the proposed creation of the hospital will help improve the lopsided doctor to patient ratio on the island, which according to Molon stands at 1:10,337. She said the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended a ratio of 1:1,000.

Roderick Napulan of the DOH central office said the Health Facility Development Bureau's position paper on HB No.1153 acknowledges the necessity of the Samar Island Medical Center.

Despite this, Napulan noted that there's a "need to consider the healthcare provider network in the area before we can go ahead with construction of a new hospital.

Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento expressed gratitude to the Romualdez couple and the resource persons following the bill's approval as he cited the hospital's potential benefit to his constituents.

"If ever this would be given to us, it's going to be a big help. Rest assured that the help coming from the national government would be truly valued by the Samarnons. And we want to contribute as well to the development of this country," said Sarmiento.

At present, Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez said there are 51 government-owned and twenty-seven  privately-owned hospitals in Eastern Visayas.

There are only two retained hospitals of the Department of Health – the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban City and the Schistosomiasis Research Hospital in Palo, Leyte, the lady lawmaker said.

The rest of the government hospitals are provincial and district hospitals and infirmaries owned and managed by the local government units, according to her.

Level 3 or tertiary government hospitals are the largest types of hospitals and have a wider range of medical and surgical capacities compared to Level 1 or 2 hospital.

They can provide more comprehensive patient care and can handle the more serious cases.

Under the bill, a tertiary hospital under the control, supervision, and management of the Department of Health (DOH) in the first-class city of Calbayog, Samar will be erected and named the Samar Island Medical Center.