This Philippine hospital’s quick response helped them manage the COVID-19 pandemic effectively

After admitting Philippines’ first locally-transmitted COVID-19 case in March last year, Cardinal Santos Medical Centre had to pivot quickly to cope with the challenges of the pandemic

At the beginning of March last year, the Philippines confirmed the country’s first locally-transmitted COVID-19 case – a 62-year-old man who was admitted into the Cardinal Santos Medical Centre (CSMC) with severe pneumonia.

As the patient, who suffered from hypertension and diabetes, had no recent travel history, protocol at that time dictated that there was no need to conduct a COVID-19 test for him.

The healthcare providers at CSMC, however, thought otherwise.

Recognising that the patient had displayed the common symptoms associated with the virus, CSMC was adamant that a COVID-19 test be done on him.

The hospital’s hunch turned out to be right – four days after the patient was admitted to CSMC, test results confirmed that he had, indeed, contracted the virus.

With this crucial information, the country’s health authorities were able to put in place measures – such as contact tracing and deep cleaning of the locations the patient had previous visited – to try and curb the spread of the virus.

CSMC, too, implemented stringent COVID-19 prevention guidelines and standards – which continue to this day – to ensure the safety of their staff and patients.

Dr Lilibeth Salvio, the Department Head of Infection Control at CSMC, revealed: “A COVID-19 hospital zoning was put in place, while we also designated specific isolation wards for patients and healthcare workers who had the virus. Screening and triage assessments were also done at every entry point in the hospital.

“Upon a patient’s admission, we made it mandatory for them, as well as their companions, to do a RTPCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) swab – a transition ward was set up to hold these patients while waiting for their RTPCR results.”

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic also led to CSMC adopting telehealth, as they set up an e-consult platform in order to “minimise face-to-face patient encounters”.

Now, with vaccinations being rolled out in the Philippines – as of the 4th of August, around 9.37 million have been fully vaccinated in the country – CSMC makes it a point to only deploy fully vaccinated staff to areas in the hospital with a higher risk of COVID-19 infection.

And while some countries, including Singapore, have begun working towards treating COVID-19 as an endemic rather than a pandemic, Dr Salvio insists that this is not something that the Philippines is considering doing for now.

“For us, COVID-19 is still treated as a pandemic,” Dr Salvio said. “CSMC’s plan always follows the applicable interim guidelines from the country’s department of health.

“The management fully supports the COVID-19 task force and the ICC’s recommendation – this includes having a dedicated negative pressure room at our operating rooms, endoscopy unit, as well as other areas dedicated to treating suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“In addition, we continuously educate and remind staff on our COVID-19 guidelines. For example, we strictly do not allow eating together in an enclosed space. We also emphasise the appropriate use of PPE (Personal protective equipment), as well as the basic hand hygiene for prevention.”

Dr Salvio added that these protocols had to be followed to a tee, and that staff who were found to have flouted the guidelines could face “disciplinary action”.

Key learnings from HMA 2020

Having attended Hospital Management Asia’s (HMA) annual conference last year, Dr Salvio said she was able to pick up several tips which helped her shape CSMC’s approach to the pandemic.

She elaborated: “One of the key points I took away from last year’s conference is that during this pandemic, data-driven management decisions, coupled with the ability to respond quickly, play a pivotal role in responding to this crisis.

“In addition, communication and transparency are key factors in maintaining the trust of our patients. Overall, the topics that were discussed at the conference were very useful and relevant to the current climate.”

The adoption of new technologies, particularly in the area of telehealth and virtual care, are some of the topics that will be discussed at this year’s HMA conference, to be held from 14-16 of September.

Dr Salvio believes that these topics are timely, as she foresees that the future of healthcare lies in its digitalisation efforts.

“This pandemic has maximised opportunities for pushing towards digitalisation,” Dr Salvio explained. “After all, technological advancements such as telehealth made it possible for us to reach our patients and consequently respond to their needs without putting the lives of our health care providers in danger.”


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