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House panel endorses creation of medical reserve corps

THE House committee on health has endorsed the creation of a medical reserve corps to augment the country’s health personnel in case of pandemics and health emergencies.

The committee chaired by Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan approved a consolidated bill, which included House Bill (HB) 7627 authored by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, in a hearing held on Tuesday.

Tan yielded the job of presiding over the hearing to Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Cavite, committee vice chairman, and Batanes Rep. Ciriaco Gato Jr., as she is a principal author of the consolidated bill.

The other authors of the related measures are Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Joy Myra Tambunting of Parañaque, Alfred Vargas of Quezon City, David Suarez of Quezon, Paul Daza of Northern Samar, Estrellita Suansing of Nueva Ecija, and Horacio Suansing of Sultan Kudarat.

Rodriguez said the early stage of the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic highlighted the need for a medical reserve corps during health emergencies and calamities.

“We saw the lack of medical personnel to attend to those infected by new coronavirus, leaving our hospital front-liners thoroughly overwhelmed and exhausted,” Rodriguez said.

Due to physical and emotional exhaustion, he said health workers had to call for a two-week timeout in August, which President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte heeded by keeping Metro Manila and other high-risk areas under stricter quarantine restrictions.

He added that the proposed reserve group is patterned after the same organization established in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and other targets.

Tan said medical reservists “are needed in times like this when we are going through a COVID-19 pandemic and in case of disasters as well.”

She added many hospitals in Metro Manila and other parts of the country are short of medical staff due to the current health crisis.

“Many of our healthcare workers are worn out physically, mentally and emotionally. If we have a reserve force, they could temporarily take the place of tired frontliners who have to take a break from toxic and risky work,” she said.

Tan added that the creation of a medical reserve corps “will strengthen the national preparedness and response of the government to public health emergencies and reduce the adverse health, economic and social impact of pandemics on the Filipino people.”

Under the consolidated bill, the Department of Health (DoH) would be mandated to organize the reserve medical network.

The group would be composed of licensed physicians, including those retired, graduates of medicine, medical students who have completed four years of medical course, registered nurses, and licensed allied health professionals.

The DoH would issue guidelines for the recruitment, compulsory and continuing training, compensation and incentives, and length of service of corps members.

The bill provides that the reserve group “shall be so organized, trained, developed, and maintained as to ensure its readiness to immediately respond to the call to service.”

The DoH secretary would be authorized to mobilize medical reservists “to meet the needs of a disaster or health emergency, whether of local or national scale, and for other purposes necessary to respond to threats to public health.”

Several bills contained penal provisions, but the committee decided to delete the proposed penalties.