National Center for Mental Health chief denies cover-ups on COVID-19 cases

Angel Movido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 09 2020 05:10 PM | Updated as of Apr 09 2020 05:53 PM

National Center for Mental Health chief Dr. Roland Cortez

MANILA - The head of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) denied Thursday covering up coronavirus cases inside the institution after one of its officials allegedly released statements to the media on the facility's response to the crisis.

The hospital is following policies of the Department of Health when it comes to reporting COVID-19 cases, said NCMH chief Dr. Roland Cortez after he barred the center's chief administrative officer Clarita Avila from speaking in behalf of the facility.

“It's not a gag order, but to inform her of the policy on COVID-19,” Cortez told ABS-CBN News.

“We are not covering up. Why? We submit reports to the DOH everyday. There is an existing policy naman. We are just doing our job to protect the interest of our patients,” he added.

Avila was earlier quoted by a news network (not ABS-CBN News) as saying that over half of the psychiatrists at the NCMH were under quarantine due to COVID-19.

“Well, obviously, it's a cover-up of his mismanagement of the crisis and denying the public the right to information of what's happening here at NCMH, aside from suppressing my freedom of speech,” Avila said in a text message to ABS-CBN News Thursday.

Cortez denied curtailing Avila's freedom of speech, saying the Mandaluyong-based facility reports to the DOH and the local government.

“Wala kaming kinu-curtail. Yung transparency of cases were submitted to the DOH and the local governments because these should be reported,” Cortez insisted.

As of Thursday, Cortez said the hospital has a total of 39 COVID-19 cases, 30 of which involve NCMH employees, and 6 are psychiatric patients. Three other patients died, he said.

The NCMH chief also admitted that 565 employees of the facility are on home quarantine after being classified as persons under investigation (PUI), and persons under monitoring (PUM).

Of the said figure, 29 are resident doctors, and 28 are psychiatric consultants.

LACKING MEDICAL GEAR AND THREATS?

Avila also claimed earlier that the NCMH only had 50 sets of personal protective equipment, and that medical staff and employees rely heavily on donations for protective gear and food.

Cortez said the facility has a total of 3,300 PPEs that include recent donations from the DOH.

“What's really depressing, sinasabi niya, we only rely on donations? It is not true. It is not true that we only have 50 PPEs. We already also offer food for them because this is an era where all of us have to help,” the NCMH chief said.

Some posts on social media carried calls to help frontliners at the NCMH, particularly PPEs and meals to be sent to the NCMH Physicians’ Association Inc.

Doctors, however, declined to discuss the initiative.

“I’d like to apologize. I cannot grant the interview because DOH and NCMH have media protocol,” Dr. Agnes Casiño, board member of the NCMH-PAI, said in a text message.

One employee, who requested for anonymity, claimed Cortez tried to threaten doctors asking for donations.

“He threatened na kakasuhan yung mga doktor na mag-donation drive. Bawal daw yun,” an employee from the NCMH said.

Cortez, however, said he is only following rules and policies for donations.

"We are not stopping them, because that is their prerogative. Kung may association 'yun, okay yun," he said.

"Huwag nila ipa-deliver sa NCMH (yung donations). We will be accountable to COA (Commission on Audit) in the future,” he added.

NO SKELETAL WORKFORCE

The employee who requested anonymity also claimed that Cortez did not allow a skeletal workforce for psychiatrists and psychologists.

"Parang, we are helpless talaga. It fell on deaf ears. Hindi pinag-skeletal. Mga suggestion namin, rejected lahat. Kaya ayan, marami na kaming COVID positive," the employee told ABS-CBN News.

"Ngayon, nung kumalat yan, may nagreklamo. Tsaka, niya pinayagan yung mga skeletal,” the employee added.

Cortez said he only disagreed with a skeletal workforce for those working on mandatory face-to-face treatment for patients. Those working on psychiatric cases, he said, were allowed.

The NCMH chief also assured that blood tests, X-rays, and swab tests are done on in-house patients, along with the daily disinfection of their areas. A triage area has also been set up at the entrance of the institution.

One of the areas of the hospital was converted to an isolation area for in-house patients who were considered as PUIs, Cortez said.

NCMH doctors and medical staff, meanwhile, may choose to go on home quarantine, or be housed at the city’s isolation area at Nepthali Gonzales Integrated School, just a few meters away from NCMH.

Cortez called on employees of the NCMH to refrain from creating confusion and spreading fears to the public.

“I can assure families of patients who are here at the NCMH that we are doing our best to help them fight COVID-19,” he said.