One of a kind

Stella A. Estremera

THE Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) has transformed itself into becoming not only the biggest medical facility in the whole country but also the only medical facility that houses different specialty centers all geared toward serving the poor and underprivileged.

The SPMC has the various specialized treatment centers and institutes in one compound. It has the Dr. Rizal Aportadera Burn Center, the Mindanao Heart Center, and very recently, the Cancer Institute.

In the making is the Women and Children Center, which is expected to be operational later this year, while the main girders of the Orthopedic Institute has already been put up and construction is going full blast. Also in the drawing board next year is the Children’s Institute so that the Women and Children Center, which is expected to open by October this year, will focus on women diseases.

“In Manila, they have their own one big hospital like Lung Center, Heart Center, Children’s Institute, but these are different institutions. In here, we grew and transformed ourselves from a base of a general hospital into what it is. There’s nothing of its kind, it's a real transformation and we planned for it, it’s a long-term plan,” said Dr. Leopoldo Vega, SPMC Medical Center Chief.

Vega said the growth of SPMC to what it is today is the result of years of assessing what the population needs.

“We have actually positioned ourselves and planned for this as a long-term program of SPMC that we need to come up with specialty centers wherein it will give easy access to the poor and give quality services to them and the only way to do that is to come up with good infrastructure facilities,” he said.

Despite all its specialty centers, Vega said, the paying patients only account for around 10 to 15 percent of the total.

Average emergency room cases per day is 600 patients, he said, while they average 1,300 per day in the Outpatient Department. These come from all over Mindanao, some even beyond as SPMC has made itself known for its quality service for the poor.

The community provides the skilled workers, he said, as it is a common trend that those who serve the hospital for their residency, or the so-called graduates, return to serve the center after getting their specialized trainings abroad.

“The attrition rate is very low and this is the reason why we do have a number of skilled and specialty consultants with us. Besides that we have very good medical school where the line of doctors coming into the program are trained. The line of succession is sustained because of the medical school,” Vega said, referring to the Davao Medical School Foundation Inc.

While DMSF is a private entity, doctors in Davao City have an attachment to it not only because many graduated from that school, but also because it came to be as an initiative of the medical community in Davao City, government doctors included.

Just like DMSF, it is in this spirit of cooperation that is prevalent in Davao City that SPMC earned its wings. Its two specialty services are testaments to this.

The Rizal D. Aportadera Burn Unit is named after Dr. Aportadera who has made it his lifetime advocacy to give the best treatment to burn victims of Mindanao, having been a burn victim himself when he was just a toddler and survived despite the near-impossible chance of survival at that time.

While it gets its regular allocation, it enjoys a major boost from donations and support of the community.

The Cancer Institute, as well, is a testimony to how a community can work together to provide free cancer treatment to children. With Pedia-Oncologist Dr. Mae Concepcion Dolendo at the helm, what started as a four-bed allocation for child cancer in 2004 that later became a full-fledged Children’s Cancer and Blood Disease Unit (CCBDU), is now a full wing of the Cancer Institute. The other wing is for adult patients that come complete with a linear accelerator machine, and SPMC hopes it will get the same support from the community.

“The strength of the (CCBDU) team is the multidisciplinary approach they make and staunch advocates, and good partners,” said SPMC chief training officer Dr. Mar. Elinore Alba-Concha.

Help came in all forms, including the regular pictorials Davao City photographers did that brought to the community the awareness of the needs of children with cancer.

“Because of the (free) advertisements, we have gotten so much support. We hope maka-generate rin kami ng ganoong (that we can generate that kind of) support for the adults in need,” she said.

“In the future probably next year, we start constructing an acute care and trauma facility complete with helipad, acute care, then we’re also coming out with the Eye Institute, a very modern eye institute to cover the number of eye diseases in the country especially here in the southern Philippines,” Dr. Vega said.

With their sights focused on the medical services needs of those who have the least access to medical services, the SPMC is growing much faster than any other medical facility in the country, both public and private. Its secret: the heart of the people.

“I think this is what motivates us all; that if we work together, the poor can have easy access to health facilities, medicines and specialties,” said Dr. Vega, who himself has been working as a clinician and surgeon for more than three decades and have seen the sufferings of those who cannot afford proper medical treatment.