VSMMC justifies hazard pay to workers not physically reporting to work

By: Derycka C. Letigio - CDN Digital Multi-Media Reporter | August 20,2021 - 08:32 PM

Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City.    | CDN file photo

CEBU CITY, Philippines — The Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) justified its payment of P2.11 million to personnel not physically reporting to work during the pandemic as a humanitarian move for those who were quarantined after contracting COVID-19 during their duty days.

The Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged this expense in their 2020 audit report saying that hazard pays should only be given to workers who are exposed to corresponding dangers on-site.

In a statement released on their social media pages, the VSMMC administration said that the hazard pay was provided to workers who could not go to work on-site because they were under quarantine, oftentimes contracting the illness during their 2-week on-site duty days.

“VSMMC has been catering to both COVID and non-COVID cases. Because of this and in the exigency of services, the management had to adopt special scheduling among its healthcare workers rotating at our COVID Facility. Instead of the usual 40-hour, 5-day workweek, these healthcare workers worked for 2 weeks straight rotation without leaving the hospital which culminates in a mandatory quarantine for a prescribed number of days before rtPCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) testing to ensure their safety in going back to their respective homes and to their tour of duty”

“After this tour of duty wave, they go on 2 weeks rest. Some of these employees, unfortunately, turned up positive for SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus, and would be on further quarantine. With all these premises, the management thought it would be in the best interest of its employees to be granted such benefit. VSMMC had an obligation to look out for its employees who have been working hard in tough circumstances,” said Doctor Gerardo Aquino, the hospital’s Medical Center Chief.

VSMMC said that during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 2020 when Cebu was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), their management adopted alternative working arrangements pursuant to the guidelines set by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

All employees were directed to report on-site observing infection prevention and control measures despite the disruptions of public transport, seeming discrimination against hospital workers, and inconveniences brought about by the restrictions of the community quarantine in effect.

On March 17, 2020, a hospital order was released mandating a Work-from-Home arrangement for elderly healthcare workers who were not spared from risk exposure if they continued to report on-site from time to time especially in the submission of reports.

All division and section heads have been given an overview of this mechanism by providing them with the methods to ensure that all employees can avail of this arrangement with a clear-cut set of deliverables.

As the pandemic wore on, it became clear for VSMMC that the local transmission was raging and the risk of getting COVID-19 was no longer limited to taking care of COVID-19 patients.

“In fact, in an epidemiological investigation by the Department of Health (DOH) and our Infection Control Committee (ICC), more non-patient-facing employees contracted the virus than patient-facing staff. The source of infection was traced to community transmission more than hospital-acquired,” said VSMMC.

The hospital administration believes the release of the hazard pay is justified as the people who contracted the disease in line of service deserved it.

The management has addressed the observations to COA and they are awaiting a final disposition.

“Nevertheless, in the administration of this benefit due of the healthcare workers, VSMMC advocated for the advantage of its employees, consistent with the wisdom of granting such pay. In the healthcare landscape, regulations have enabling provisions, and that equity must be afforded to ensure the continuous delivery of quality healthcare services in these most trying times,” they added.

Despite this, VSMMC said it commits to continually collaborate and cooperate with COA to ensure transparency and accountability in the delivery of quality healthcare.    /rcg

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TAGS: 2020 Audit Report, COA, Commission on Audit, COVID-19, discrimination, hazard pay, humanitarian move, public transport, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, VSMMC

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