NURSES employed at the hospitals and other medical facilities operated by the Cebu Provincial Government (PB) may soon receive better compensation for service rendered at the medical frontlines.
Arvie N. Veloso reported in SunStar Cebu on Oct. 8 that the Provincial Board approved on second and final reading an ordinance proposing to “upgrade and modify” the salaries of public nurses, which was authored by PB Member Glenn Anthony Soco (Cebu, 6th).
Soco, who heads the budget and appropriations committee, calls nurses the “lifeblood in any healthcare institution,” stressing their importance in “patient care, emergency response, both emergency care and even outpatient medical services”.
Covered by the pay hike are all nurses employed by the Cebu Provincial Health Office, provincial and district hospitals and the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.
All nurses, whether regular, casual, contractual, full-time or part-time, benefit from the salary hike. Only nurses hired “through outsourcing companies” are not covered.
Under the ordinance, 176 nurses hired by the Cebu Province for entry-level Nurse I are due to receive P32,053, raised from the P22,316 they are paid at present. Those classified Nurse IV will receive the SG-20 monthly salary of P55,799 instead of their previous SG-19 rate of P49,835.
The pay hike is a much needed boost, given the pivotal roles played by nurses in the care, management, and recovery of hospital patients. In the pandemic, nurses are the steady presence in hospitals, carrying out the orders of specialists and consultants and often dispensing to patients and their families more than their profession requires.
A salary hike is not the only measure for ameliorating the work of nurses. Work shifts that can extend to 12 hours or longer, sometimes lasting for 24 hours, exacerbate the stress of working with disease and death, taking a toll on the physical and psychological wellness of nurses.
In one private hospital in Cebu City, nurses assigned to work with patients who acquired coronavirus disease (Covid-19) took their meals and toilet breaks only after their shifts ended due to the time and cost of removing and disposing of their personal protective equipment (PPE).
Given the discrepancy of the hospitalization costs between public and private health institutions, it is ironic that nurses hired in the latter struggle with almost similar and even worse work conditions and pay.
A sick nurse unable to report to work often means there is only one nurse to administer to a whole ward of patients. The turnaround is affected, extending the lag between the last time a nurse checks in on a patient and his or her return.
For patients who need critical, unflagging supervision, families are forced to engage caregivers for hospitalized relatives, increasing expenses.
Due to the inhuman pay and work conditions in hospitals, many nurses resign to work as caregivers of private patients. An Intensive Care Unit nurse commands at least P1,000 for a shift of eight hours, with meals, overtime pay, and other benefits included in her or his engagement as a private caregiver.
During the enhanced community quarantine, caregivers negotiated for stay-in or 24-hour shifts to minimize the risks and costs of daily commuting to care for their patients.
Without public transport and not being provided shuttle services by their hospital employers, many nurses and other health frontliners walked to work, as well as walked home after a long, exhausting shift. Some nurses changed to civilian clothes before leaving the hospitals, anxious to avoid public discrimination at the height of the pandemic.
A pay increase may be essential for compensating nurses. It will take considerable reforms in work conditions to convince nurses to continue providing their invaluable service for the public.