UP-PGH preparing to operate as COVID-19 referral center

| Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

UP-Philippine General Hospital, a unit under UP Manila. Photo by Jun Madrid, UP MPRO.


The University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) has been designated by the Department of Health (DOH) as one of the three COVID-19 referral centers in the National Capital Region (NCR), with the concurrence of UP President Danilo L. Concepcion and UP Manila Chancellor Carmencita D. Padilla.

The director of UP-PGH, Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi, made this announcement during a March 23 virtual press conference of the DOH.

The other two hospitals designated as COVID-19 referral centers in the NCR are the Dr. Jose M. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City and the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.


Preparing for a potentially protracted battle

Government hospitals under the DOH, major private hospitals, and the different offices of the DOH were tasked with coordinating the management of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Dr. Legaspi said.

“The stakeholders agreed that one of the solutions to this complex problem was to organize the hospitals in a manner that will rationalize the clinical approach and the utilization of resources in order to equip and enable the designated referral centers for a potentially protracted battle,” the UP-PGH statement added.

Representatives of the hospitals, both private and government, met and discussed the issues and have committed financial, manpower, technical and technological assistance to the three COVID-19 referral centers. The DOH and the University of the Philippines also pledged to extend full support.

The statement added that “a scaling-up system of preparation was agreed upon so as not to severely hamper the COVID-19 referral centers’ services to their currently admitted patients.”

Under the referral system, the coordinated transfer of patients can be done only after official acceptance by the receiving hospital. Admission to the referral center will initially be limited to mild PUIs (patients under investigation) who are at high risk of deterioration (above 60 years of age and/or with co-morbidities) and moderate to critical PUIs.

Director Legaspi clarified that not everyone with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 would be admitted to UP-PGH, but patients will at least be seen at the hospital triage, where they are prioritized according to the degree of their ailment and the urgency of their treatment.

Eventually, when testing for COVID-19 has been made readily available, only confirmed COVID-19 patients will be sent to the referral centers. Those designated as mild PUIs shall be triaged to their local health units and a quarantine plan shall be strictly implemented.


One week to prepare

The UP-PGH, Director Legaspi said in the virtual press conference, requested a week to fully prepare the hospital for its role as a COVID-19 referral hospital. Planning began as early as March 20 and hospital officials have designated a location exclusively for COVID-19 patients. The designated COVID ward will be distant from and have very little contact with the hospital’s more than 400 other, non-COVID-19 patients.

During the first meeting of UP-PGH officials and department heads, it was decided that 130 beds would be committed to COVID-19 patients, although this number may be increased depending on the number of incoming patients.

Director Legaspi also said coordination had been made with private hospitals, which could share the lessons and experiences in dealing with their own COVID-19 crisis.  He also noted the willingness of other government hospitals under the DOH to accept non-COVID-19 patients that UP-PGH might not be able to handle because it would be focusing on COVID-19 patients during this public health crisis.


Not an exclusively COVID-19 hospital

But Dr. Legaspi stressed that “I repeat, UP-PGH will not be an exclusively COVID-19 hospital,” citing the more than 400 patients at the hospital who need the different specializations of UP-PGH’s experts. He noted, however, that the number of these patients had been dwindling because of the lockdown.

He was addressing concerns about the continued operations of the Cancer Institute. He said the Cancer Institute is still open and will continue to provide patients with services, including radiotherapy.

Another essential service of UP-PGH is the Emergency Room, which will also remain open. COVID-19 patients will have a separate Emergency Room. However, Director Legaspi said when testing becomes adequate and regular, there will be no more need for a separate Emergency Room because the COVID ward will be accepting only COVID-positive patients.

“There are challenges, many challenges,” said Director Legaspi.  These include the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and testing kits. However, UP-PGH is preparing itself to handle a number of patients up to 10 times greater than the expected number.

“With the help of the private sector, donors, and the DOH, we are hoping that before we formally open our doors to COVID-19 patients, we will be ready to take care of these patients for even as long as a month… UP has accepted this challenge and we will face up the difficulties together and hopefully be a part of the solution of the DOH to this problem,” Director Legaspi said. (co-author Fred Dabu, UP MPRO)