Dr. Rafael Castillo on PGH Directorship Issue & Morong 43

Posted on March 7, 2010

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THANKLESS JOB

By Rafael Castillo, MD
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:11:00 03/05/2010

IT APPEARS THAT IF YOU’RE A healthcare professional who is idealistic and would not compromise on your commitment to serve, you have to brace yourself for a lot of disappointments. Recent events are demotivating a lot who fall under this category and many are wondering why high government officials seem to be looking the other direction, utterly unmindful of what’s going on.

With the questionable arrest and treatment of the 43 health workers in Morong still eroding the morale of many service-oriented healthcare professionals, another controversy is rocking the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital Medical Center, which is the country’s premier government hospital where hundreds of thousands of poor patients from all corners of the country seek refuge for their various health needs. Unlike other government hospitals which are under the Department of Health, PGH is under the UP system.

Booted out

Dr. Jose Gonzales, newly installed UP-PGH director— having been sworn to office twice by two authorized officials of the UP system—has barely warmed his seat when he was unceremoniously booted out last week by the same UP Board of Regents (BOR) that elected him as the new hospital director in its resolution of Dec. 18, 2009. The appointment is for a term of three years. He assumed his new post Jan. 4, 2010 and was given his walking papers seven weeks later.

“What they did to me is unjust, illegal and oppressive,” says Dr. Gonzales, more popularly known as Dr. Joegon. He is one of the country’s highly respected heart surgeons. He has set up the open-heart programs of several tertiary hospitals in Metro Manila, and could have certainly earned bigger bucks in these fancy medical centers catering to the rich.

But he decided to concentrate his practice at UP-PGH where he can render service not only to those who can afford expensive heart surgeries, but also to those who cannot afford these life-saving heart interventions. He has offered his services for free for many poor patients.

Passion for work

Probably because of his passion for his work which frequently requires long hours inside the operating rooms and even longer hours at the bedside monitoring critically-ill patients, Joegon has remained a bachelor. Despite his stature, he has lived simply and shares a good deal of his income as a heart surgeon sending deserving students to medical school, and personally funding other charitable undertakings. Once I commended him for these works and he seemed astonished and asked me how I came to know of them. “I don’t tell people these things I’m doing,” he said. “Good works have wings,” I answered. “And one way or the other, they get noticed.”

Many doctors and employees of the UP-PGH are crying foul over the hasty and unjust ouster of Joegon. Earlier this week, they staged a rally at the hospital grounds to show their indignation. The UP College of Medicine Council composed of the teaching faculty, has also thrown its support for Joegon. I’ve received numerous text messages from doctor-friends who are all disappointed at the decision of the UP BOR, reversing their previous resolution electing Joegon. They disregarded the resolution on the basis of a technicality that one of the members of the BOR who gave the crucial vote for Joegon—the student regent—is on study leave and should not be allowed to vote. Why they allowed her to vote the first time around only to rule two months later that she was not qualified to vote baffles the simple mind like mine, and it definitely does not speak well of the UP BOR.

This tendency for flip-flop decision-making is unbecoming of such an esteemed board of regents of a highly distinguished institution which the UP system is. This can seriously undermine the credibility of the BOR.

Due process

Just like the Morong fiasco involving the unlawful arrest of 43 health workers, this UP-PGH fiasco leaves another bitter taste in the mouth. The UP-BOR could still redeem themselves. They can reconsider their decision to boot out Joegon and give him due process. Technically, they have already installed him as PGH director. Unless they can find due cause to remove him for something he has done in the seven or so weeks that he has discharged his function as director, they should uphold their resolution of Dec. 18, 2009 electing Joegon.

If the UP BOR care for the millions of indigent patients who rely on PGH for their health needs, they should set aside their egos and listen to the clamor of the hospital employees, the PGH doctors and the teaching faculty of the college. This controversial decision of the UP BOR is divisive and might compromise the services of this premier institution. In the end, the patients will be at the losing end.

As for Joegon, I think he knew all along that it would be a thankless job but he was determined to make the sacrifice and accepted the job. He need not worry though. No board, no matter how powerful it is, can put a good man down.

Originally published here: http://business.inquirer.net/money/features/view/20100305-256872/Thankless-job

Photo originally posted here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=1010651&id=1441863306