Dr. Cesar Ramon G. Espiritu was faced with a dilemma a few weeks after the extended community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed. As the president and chief executive officer of The Medical City South Luzon (TMCSL) hospital, he saw the negative impact the mandate had on his staff’s psyche and the hospital’s patients.
He knew, too, that many hospitals—including those within the province of Laguna—were not fully equipped to treat patients with COVID-19. After talks with the local government and leaders of different hospitals, TMCSL then became a COVID-patient referral hospital in Sta. Rosa.
But as the institution continued to work at containing the spread of the disease, its operations were brought to a standstill. Like most hospitals, as the COVID-19 patients grew in number, the non-COVID ones were starting to be deprived of the care they deserve. The influx of people began to take a toll on healthcare workers.
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It was at this point that Dr. Espiritu realized the need for a separate, fully-equipped facility to care for all the COVID-19 cases. “This would then allow the main hospital building to be COVID free, resume its normal operations, and, more importantly, provide a safe facility for non-COVID cases,” he tells ANCX.
Dr. Espiritu approached his first cousin, Levy Espiritu, an engineer, and chairman of the board and CEO of construction company DATEM Incorporated. The company donated construction materials and manpower to the initiative, and was instrumental in the initial negotiations between TMCSL and another construction company, EEI Corporation. The latter, headed by its president and chief executive officer Roberto Castillo, donated eight smart houses.
Smart houses are slightly smaller versions of shipment containers. They are usually installed in construction sites for use as offices or sleeping quarters.
Within a few days, other people started to join the team. Rynor Jamandre, neighbor and close friend of Dr. Espiritu, also an engineer, volunteered to take care of the design and construction of a complex envisioned to have the same features as a typical hospital ward. Meanwhile, Michael Ray J. Infante, an architect, helped in developing the initial plans.
Working from their respective homes, the whole team came up with feasible plans and a design within a week. But they had three major hurdles: budget, reduced movement due to ECQ, and time.
Engineer Jamandre decided to share the team’s intention among his circle of friends, in the hopes of bringing in more help. Two days after, the teams were able to come up with 70% of their needs—money and materials—through pledges from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. The local government and Sta. Rosa mayor Arlene Arcillas expressed their support, Dr. Espiritu says, facilitating acquisition of permits for such needs as electrical power, apart from providing hospital beds.
Dr. Espiritu also sought the help of Unity in Isolation, a charity group formed specifically to build Emergency Quarantine Facilities (EQF) for COVID patients. Through this group, Dr. Espiritu and company were able to fund an additional structure, which could house 15 beds.
Construction started April 6, 2020, and the whole project is expecting completion on the first weekend of May—which puts total building time to only 27 working days. It can be recalled that sometime in February, Wuhan City—where the coronavirus first emerged—built a hospital in 10 days. With less resources, TMLC’s feat comes close to that of Wuhan.
“This was a remarkable achievement considering that it started with no available funds, with the usual sources of materials closed, and with manpower limited because of the restrictions of the ECQ,” says Dr. Espiritu. “In spite of all of these, people just showed up at the site bringing with them items that were on the list.” Construction companies also offered to take care of labor, without cost.
Complex of Hope, the name given to the new facility, is the first COVID facility entirely dedicated to the treatment of the disease. It is fully equipped with the necessary machines, assures Espiritu, and is manned by a veteran staff. “It is also separate from its mother hospital,” the doctor adds.
The complex is equipped to serve 26 patients. It also has a four-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and a detached facility for staff quarters. Adding to their essential equipment, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Regional Office for Region IV-A granted TMCSL’s request for 12 RxBox telemedicine units, which will allow them to access and process data from COVID-19 patients remotely.
The complex is scheduled to open May 11. While construction is expected to be done by Sunday, May 3, the team is giving themselves a week to prepare and move all their equipment in.
Dr. Espiritu called the facility “Complex of Hope” because he wanted to remind everyone not to give in to fear, and that victory is possible if people work together. “The Complex should be a place with a positive attitude to a health crisis of a magnitude that we have not experienced before,” he says. “So what can be more apt than the word ‘hope’?”
Dr. Espiritu says Complex of Hope is proof that compassion will keep saving mankind during this pandemic: “As long as there are people who are kind, generous, and ready to go the extra mile, we will have a fighting chance to beat this disease.”