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Putting money into public health

The birthing facility in Brgy. Irawan, Palawan was given a new lease on life with the improvements done by SM Foundation, enabling the facility to secure necessary licenses to resume operations.

Given the difficult lessons learned from the most recent pandemic, investing in healthcare has never been more crucial.

During the peak of COVID-19, one of these lessons exposed the fragility of health institutions collapsing under the weight of enormous medical demands. The need for the public and private sectors to step up was evident, but the need to plan forward rather than just react to potential health crises is even more pressing.

This highlights the significance of accessibility and the efforts made by the private sector to narrow the socioeconomic divide in healthcare. Better community access to high-quality primary healthcare in collaboration with national and local governments is what this implies for SM and its foundations.

Mission NOT impossible

Medical missions allow access, especially of remote or economically disadvantaged communities, to medical care, education and support.  SM Foundation’s (SMFI) medical missions provide free consultations, basic laboratory tests, dental check-ups and proper dosage of appropriate medicine. SM Foundation reached an important milestone by conducting more than 1,600 medical missions, benefiting nearly 1.3 million patients year-to-date.

“Patients who once endured long queues at crowded healthcare facilities now find relief as we bring healthcare services to remote barangays or provide them conveniently at our malls and properties,” Connie Angeles, SM Foundation Executive Director for Health and Medical Programs said.

And more than just a structure

While health facilities offer a venue for the conduct of medical services, fixing it up through thoughtful and meaningful design could do more for the community than just provide space. Rural health centers are considered as lifelines, offering a comprehensive range of health services at a minimal cost or even free to the most vulnerable.

“These opportunities to rebuild health centers do more for human well-being. The refurbishment of public healthcare facilities not only enhance their capabilities by way of improvements and new equipment but also make these facilities more responsive and conducive to the health needs and recovery of those they serve,” Ms. Angeles said.

Furthermore, the renovation allows public health centers to meet PhilHealth Accreditation standards, resulting in an increase in PhilHealth utilization and helping decongest city hospitals and minimizing the spread of communicable diseases.

Through these accredited health centers, patients could avail themselves of PhilHealth benefits such as primary care, maternity care and pharmacy needs at the barangay level. These efforts also result in increased capitalization for local governments.   

Many sectors also benefit from these renovations including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, terminally ill patients and women and children to name a few.

SM Foundation’s 200th rural health center in Laguna is a classic example. “Marami kaming programa na hindi namin malagyan ng lugar kasi kulang ang space kaya’t naghahagilap kami kung saan ito ipu-pwesto,” said Dr. Elmira Montesa who leads the Santa Cruz Rural Health Unit (SCRHU). [We have many programs that we can’t accommodate because there is not enough space and we are scrambling for places for these.]

Following the Department of Health’s (DOH) guidelines, SM Foundation elevated the

SCRHU. The rehabilitation transformed the center into a welcoming space, featuring comfortable waiting areas, a reception area for health workers and designated facilities for breastfeeding mothers, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. It has a mobile play cabinet for children coping with illnesses. SM also included a rainwater catchment system to the renovated facility to contribute to water conservation.

In 2023, SM Foundation breathed new life into UP-PGH’s post-COVID & PulmoCare hub.

Prior to the rehabilitation, UP-PGH Division of Pulmonary Medicine chief Dr. Lenora Fernandez recalled that the facility struggled to expand its services to meet the growing needs of the community.

“PGH does have many donors but they have so many competing priorities, too. Those patients who continued to suffer from debilitating shortness of breath in silence still lacked essential services such as pulmonary rehabilitation equipment,” Dr. Fernandez said.

The newly refurbished facility now has a new lobby to receive patients and spacious rooms with dedicated areas for rehabilitation, ultrasound, cardiopulmonary exercise testing and virtual consultation. Dr. Fernandez expressed optimism about the future of the hub and sees the number of patients served growing every year.

In Brgy. Irawan, Puerto Princesa, a community birthing facility’ serving thousands of residents and indigenous people, had to halt operations in 2018 as it was unable to meet government health requirements.

“Kahit ilang kilometro ang layo nito sa mga kapwa ko katutubo, ito ang pinakamalapit na birthing facility dito sa aming lugar. Kaya malapit ang loob ng komunidad sa facility, lalo na ng mga kapwa ko katutubo. Noong kami ay nahinto, may mga pagkakataon na may nanganganak na sa loob ng sasakyan,” midwife Narcisa Jagmis, a member of the Tagbanua tribe, and who leads the birthing facility said.

[Even though it is several kilometers away from my fellow natives, this is the closest birthing facility here in our area. When we were stopped, there were times when someone was giving birth inside the car.]

SM Foundation supported the community by revamping the birthing facility in 2023, enabling it to obtain the required licenses to resume operations. Dedicated rooms and spaces for storage, scrub-up, breastfeeding, consultations, birthing, clean-up and sterilization, as well as labor and recovery wards were added. It also introduced a rainwater harvesting system and installed energy-efficient lighting fixtures and appliances.

Another SM affiliate, BDO Foundation, also achieved a major milestone as it rehabilitated its 160th rural health unit (RHU) in 2023. This involved renovating exteriors, layout and interior design, lobbies and waiting areas, offices, birthing clinics, consultation rooms, treatment rooms and pharmacies as well as installing breastfeeding stations for nursing mothers, play areas for children, and waiting lounges for senior citizens.

BDO Foundation also installed new signages, furniture, and fixtures to help health workers accommodate more patients in environments conducive to good health and well-being. The improvement of facilities empowers doctors, nurses, and midwives to provide quality primary healthcare services more often and more efficiently to their constituents. The initiative also benefits mothers, infants and children, persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and indigenous peoples living in remote areas.

Officers from BDO Unibank and BDO Network Bank also suggested health centers that required support. The DOH, local government representatives, and health authorities supported the project by offering advice on RHU renovations. The BDO Foundation assisted health centers in obtaining accreditation from PhilHealth and favorable DOH assessment ratings in healthcare delivery through the rehabilitation program. One of the objectives of the Philippine Health Agenda is to enhance the healthcare delivery system.

A total of 364 health centers and medical facilities have been constructed or renovated by the combined efforts of the SM Foundation and BDO Foundation.

By continuously granting fair access to high-quality basic services, the organization hopes to effectively contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing) and pave the way for a brighter and healthier future.

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