Typhoon scenario: Hospital staff expected to work like scuba divers

MANILA, Philippines - When Typhoon "Ruby" (international name: Hagupit) hits the Philippines, state-run hospitals are expected to work like scuba divers, health officials say.

They will cooperate with each other, as underwater teams do, so they can rescue each other when emergency arises.

Learning from experience when Supertyphoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) struck last year, the Department of Health (DOH) has set up a "buddy system" to ensure that state-run hospitals and regional offices will be able to render health services with the help of their counterparts from other regions.

"We are preparing like it is going to be a Yolanda," acting Health Secretary Janette Garin told reporters on Friday.

Sweeping destruction

Yolanda's destruction was so sweeping it took one to five days for government help to get to the hardest-hit areas, including Tacloban City, according to Dr. Cirilo Galindez, new head of the DOH's Health Emergency Management Bureau.

"Yolanda was overwhelming. Even health workers and the staff of hospitals were victims of the typhoon," Galindez said. "What was needed at that time was not augmentation [of workforce] but replacement from the unaffected regions."

To ensure that health workers can quickly respond, regional offices and DOH-retained hospitals in the threatened regions were assigned counterparts in areas to be spared by Ruby.

"This [system] is relatively new to the DOH, although this is being used in other fields, like diving," Assistant Health Secretary Gerardo Bayugo said.

Buddy system

Under the buddy system, the regional offices and state-run hospitals in Central Luzon and Caraga are to assist their counterparts in Eastern Visayas, which forecasts show will be hit by Ruby over the weekend.

Eastern Visayas is also expected to help should the typhoon hit either of the two regions as well.

Those in Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) will send help to Central Visayas and vice versa.

DOH-retained hospitals in Northern Mindanao and Metro Manila will help counterparts in Mimaropa and Eastern Visayas.

DOH hospitals in Calabarzon and CAR have been partnered with their counterparts in the Bicol region.

Adequacy of resources

"These offices and hospitals are now working closely to ensure the adequacy of human health resources, supplies and equipment," Bayugo said.

Bayugo said the system would allow regional offices to send help and mobilize personnel without waiting for the central office's go-signal, which delays response time.

"These regional offices and hospitals are already communicating with each other, establishing how they are going to work and communicate and what help can be provided," Bayugo said.

Drugs, other supplies

Drugs, medicines and other supplies, altogether worth P243 million (S$7.2 million), have been prepositioned in the threatened regions.

Satellite phones have also been distributed and will be used in case the typhoon shuts down communication lines.

To ensure the mobility of health teams, motorcycles and bicycles are also on standby in the regional offices. These will be used in areas impassable to vehicles, explained Bayugo.

The DOH will declare a "code red" alert for all DOH-retained hospitals in the affected regions as part of its preparedness.

A code red alert means 100 percent of all hospital personnel shall report for duty in the facility to render medical and other services.