Can hospitals hold regular COVID-19 tests for health workers? Private hospitals group weighs in

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 14) — A group of private hospitals on Wednesday said some of their members may not have the resources to test healthcare workers every two weeks, following a recent pronouncement of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on the issue.

"Workers are supposed to have a test every two weeks. but remember, is it really practical to do that?" Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines President Jose de Grano told CNN Philippines' New Day.

De Grano was reacting to Duque's previous claim that the government is making sure health workers undergo testing every two weeks, and that the infected are quarantined immediately. But De Grano pointed out that it will cost hospitals millions of pesos to get everyone tested.

READ: Health workers refute Duque claim of regular COVID-19 testing 

"In a 100-bed hospital with over 400 healthcare workers, if you subject them to RT-PCR every two weeks, how much would it cost the hospital? [Assuming ₱4,000 for each test] that's ₱1.6 million every two weeks and that could be ₱3.2 million per month," De Grano said. "Where will you get the money to pay for those things?"

According to De Grano, hospitals will have to make do with prioritizing those who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients for the meantime, in order to reduce costs.

PHAPi previously bared that some hospitals were forced to reduce their manpower and other resources due to unsettled claims from Philippine Health Insurance Corporation amid the pandemic. The state health insurer failed to pay private hospitals at least ₱6 billion worth of reimbursements as of last month.

In a previous interview with CNN Philippines, the group Filipino Nurses United refuted Duque's claim, noting that some of its members are forced to go on duty even without getting tested. Some would even pay for their own COVID-19 test "for their peace of mind."

Infected health workers numbered 628 as of April 11, according to official data. A total of 16,510 health frontliners have tested positive for coronavirus since the pandemic. Eighty-six died while more than 15,000 recovered.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday that hospitals must still comply with the government's order on testing protocols to ensure the safety of their employees.

"They should be testing their employees regularly, if it's once a month, if it's once every two months. At least the workers will be tested and they can be assured that they do not have the infection," she said, noting that they will also check with hospitals and see how they can be assisted.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Health Department stressed that under its Department Memorandum 2020-0546, all public and private hospitals and health facilities must ensure the availability of testing services for all their healthcare workers exposed to persons classified as suspect, probable, and confirmed COVID-19 cases. Priority must be given to healthcare workers who are suspect cases.

The DOH urged healthcare workers to report hospitals which do not provide mandatory testing. They may reach the DOH through their Hotline 1555, or the DOH Complaints Handling Unit at dohpau.chu@gmail.com.