THE FUROR may have died down, but UST and the public at large must reflect on what lessons could be learned from the death of Andrew Pelayo’s newborn last Feb. 29, an incident that caused a social media storm and tainted the reputation of UST healthcare.

Pelayo has vented his grief on social media and blamed the death on the refusal of obstetrician-gynecologist Ana Liezel Sahagun to admit his laboring wife for not having the full P20,000 advance required by the UST Hospital for admitting patients.

While Pelayo’s original Facebook post or rant has been deleted, it has been shared and reposted a thousand times, which resulted in an online character assassination of Sahagun, with netizens branding her “mukhang perang ob-gyne,” and worse, “killer doctor.”

But Dr. Sahagun is a resident doctor who has just finished medical school and is receiving training in specialized area. She does not earn a professional fee. As a resident, she is expected to abide by the protocols of the UST Hospital, including the denial of admission, except on emergencies, of patients who are incapable of paying hospital bills. Sahagun therefore did not commit any negligence.

Advising a patient’s transfer to a government medical institution is not a violation to the law. According to the Republic Act No. 8344, “An Act prohibiting the demand of deposits or advance payments for the confinement or treatment of patients in hospitals and medical clinics in certain cases,” transferring of patients is allowed as long as medical treatments were administered, “especially in the case of poor or indigent patients.”

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Sahagun checked on the condition of the patient and gave her assessment and evaluation. Upon determining that the patient’s birth canal was still closed, she advised Pelayo to transfer the patient to Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Foundation, which is less than two kilometers away.

However, the public medical institution did not have an available incubator at that time.

It was the absence of the incubator that resulted in the stillborn death of Pelayo’s child, not Sahagun’s refusal of admission to the UST Hospital. Just the same, the social media world has condemned Doctor Sahagun and the UST Hospital.

Hardly anyone from outraged netizens has pointed out how a public health system development that has a gargantuan budget in the 2016 General Appropriations Act of P128.5 billion could not afford to supply enough number of incubators to a major government hospital located right beside the Department of Health and right at the heart of the capital of the Philippines to boot?

If such is the case at the Reyes hospital, how much worse can it be in government hospitals outside of Metro Manila?

There are three major lessons from the very sad incident.

First, public healthcare and social services despite rosy and ultimately self-serving claims by government leaders remain woefully and dangerously inadequate. Money to improve national and local health systems is often directed at the building of infrastructure and edifices, which are prone to overpricing, kickbacks, and corruption. Medical equipment and qualified personnel are at the tail-end of priorities of government spending. That is why while nearly every city government in Metro Manila has a “general hospital,” maternity deaths are aplenty; in many cases, patients die from infection contracted right in the unsanitary hospitals.

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Second, there’s really a need to raise Filipinos’ general medical and maternal health awareness so that they can better appreciate the need to save up for key health contingencies. It is very telling that Pelayo had only P6,000 with him when he should have known that private maternity costs hardly come anywhere cheap. Even then, the fact that he did not have any government hospital in mind when his wife started laboring should indicate how ordinary Filipinos in general would regard the public health system.

And third, there’s a need for the UST Hospital to review its policies and protocols in the light not only of the incident but also of the over-arching pastoral—and transcendental—mission of Catholic healthcare. It is quite revealing that some hospital insiders who defended Dr. Sahagun too readily invoked the hospital’s “private” or business character that merely betrayed the probability that the hospital might be losing sight of its original mission—providing quality Catholic healthcare especially for those who cannot afford it, a mission that has been there all along even before the Catholic Church in the 20th century declared her “preferential option for the poor.”

In short, the UST Hospital is not a “private” business enterprise but a ministry. In the face of the tragedy that took place last February, a review of that mission and ministry is in order.

1 COMMENT

  1. A post from James Abraham Dacanay Malala

    Points to ponder after reading the recent viral FB post where a resident physician was judged and accused wrongly.
    1.) The UST hospital (even the clinical division) is not a charity/government hospital. Admission in the clinical division hospital is per cash-basis however the doctor’s fee and room/service bed are free. That being said, all procedures (labs, imaging studies, surgical paraphernalia) and medications are shouldered by the patient. I know this very well because I am a proud Thomasian graduate/physician.
    2.) The physician is an OB-Gyn resident. Like any other resident, she’s just following the hospital protocol. She will not benefit from the patient’s money. She doesn’t have a professional fee. The resident doctor is on duty out of compassion and commitment.
    3.) As narrated in the post, the patient and her husband were advised early on after the doctor examined & made sure that the patients (mother & baby) are stable that they need to transfer to another institution (Government Hospital), that can cater their needs based on their available funds. But then, they came back.
    4.) Pregnancy in general or an ongoing-labor for that matter is relatively a non-emergency case if we talk about the financial aspect of it. The patient and her husband should have at least saved enough money for 9months (7 months if premature) in preparation for childbirth (responsible parenthood). I am also curious if they have PhilHealth because being responsible to one’s health should at least invest on a PhilHealth benefit (the least of what our government can do).
    5.) It’s unfair that the social media is used casually & wrongly to humiliate & destroy a doctor’s reputation because of ignorance & outburst of emotions. It’s really foul. Our healthcare system may suck hence the occurrence of such problems but the laymen should probably let the resident physician/hospital explain its side first (in private) before they judge & curse. Owell. Social media posts and access to healthcare have things in common. Both “a right” & also “a responsibility”.
    My deepest condolences to the parents of the baby. May this serve as a lesson for everyone.

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