The city government’s stand-in facility for persons with mental health disorders in Barangay San Pedro is full and can no longer accept additional cases, the City Health Office (CHO) chief said.
Dr. Ricardo Panganiban in an interview on Thursday said the Halfway Home/Drop-In center (HHDC) along Peneyra Road is “not in its ideal situation any longer” to provide continuous care and treatment for people suffering from various mental illnesses being brought there or referred by their relatives and families.
“Dapat ‘yong may mga mental health problems ang ideal na situation sa kanila dapat sa bahay lang. Ikokonsulta tapos dadalhin sa bahay, iuuwi. Ngayon, ‘yong mga [patients na] kailangang i-refer sa higher facility, dyan muna [mag-i-stay] pansamantala hanggang sa madala sa kung saan sila ire-refer. Kaya lang ang nangyayari dyan na sa drop-in center dinadala pa parang naging institusyon na. May mga matagal na dyan na parang naka-stuck na sila sa lugar. Iyong facility na ‘yan, hindi na ‘yan ideal para sa ganyan sa sitwasyon ngayon,” Panganiban told Palawan News.
“Ang nangyayari, ‘yong may mga kamag-anak hindi na rin sila kinukuha, iniiwanan na lang doon [ang mga pasyente],” he added.
Panganiban said something must be done to help the situation of city residents that are challenged by mental health disorders.
62-year-old tatay “Eli” is the oldest among the 21 patients currently taking shelter at the HHDC.
Described as a “the most manageable patient”, tatay Eli was a former inmate of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa who was transferred 18 years ago to the Iwahig Corrections Facility (then Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm) and Sta. Lucia Subcolony.
In 2017, he was brought to the drop-in center where he decided to stay for “the rest of his life”. He said his family already lives in Negros.
“Wala akong asawa. Ang mga anak ko malaki na sila may mga asawa na din sa Negros, ang iba sa Manila. Hindi na ako aalis dito. Dito na lang ako. Magtulong-tulong na lang ako [sa kanila dito] kung wala na akong sakit. Mag-tulong sa mga bubuhatin na mga kahoy panggatong-gatong, mga ganoon lang,” he said.
He is free to roam the facility, unlike the other patients who are chained so they could not escape.
“Wala [rin akong mapupuntahan]. Magiging pamilya ko na lang sila [dito] dahil wala man akong mapuntahan,” tatay Eli said.
During the interview, Eli also called on his eldest son, wishing they could spend Christmas together.
He said his son is in Negros and might read this news and come for a visit.
“Mag-ingat sila dyan. Batiin din ako nila kung totoo ba silang may tatay pa sila dito sa Palawan. Nagpapakabait naman ako dito sa drop-in. Batiin din ako nila sa Pasko,” said Tatay Eliseo.
The Drop In Center
HHDC Social Welfare Assistant (SWA) Catalina A. Nuevo said this 19-year-old facility was a special project of the city government, which started its operations in the year 2000.
Nuevo said patients who have mental health disorders that are inherited, too much stress and depression including that of post-partum, and other cases caused by illegal drugs and alcohol abuse, are those whom the facility used to cater to.
“For safe-keeping kami. Para lang maiwasan ‘yong makasakit sila. Pansamantala lang kaya nga tinawag na Drop In Center,” said Nuevo.
Patients in the facility
In their records, there are 21 currently committed patients at HHDC: 15 males and 6 females.
Nuevo said 15-years-old is their youngest patient and 62 is the oldest.
“Mayroon kaming pondo talaga para diyan. Sa lahat na sa Drop In malaki-laki din kasama na ‘yong para sa mga personnel nasa one million kami per year,” she said.
Dividing to 12 months the P1-million annual budget for HHDC, the facility only has around P83 thousand per month to sustain the salary of its six personnel, to feed its 21 patients, and for the maintenance of the area.
Nuevo said patients have three meals each, daily.
Arturo A. Nuevo, a utility worker in the facility said he is one of those who prepare food for the patients.
Their diet, he said, is usually comprised of instant noodles, canned goods, dried and fresh fish, misua and mami (both are salted noodles made from wheat flour), and rice.
However, Nuevo said they are trying to make it nutritious by adding vegetables in every dish they cook.
“Iyong iba de-lata tapos kami na din ang nagdi-diskarte mag-luto. Minsan may mga dala rin ang mga kamag-anak nila daing, isda, kami nalang nag-a-ano, hinahati-hati na rin namin sa kanila,” said Nuevo.
Nuevo said the facility consumes three to five sacks of rice per month.
He added at least two boxes of canned goods are bought monthly for the food supply.
“Mahirap din kasi ang sitwasyon dito maliit ‘yong space at kailangan kumpleto din ‘yong kailangan nila katulad sa paglilinis tsaka sa gamit, at saka importante sa pagkain nila,” he added.
Patients’ daily routine
Nuevo said their patients’ day starts with breakfast at around 8 a.m., then lunch before 12 o’clock, and will end at 4:30 p.m. for dinner.
She said they also administer the oral medicines freely-given by the City Health Office (CHO) as prescribed by a psychiatrist from Manila who visits the facility once every month.
Nuevo said when the psychiatrist visits, around 80 patients are being checked including the outpatients and the 21 patients presently committed inside the facility.
“For consultation dati 79 sila ‘yon kasama na ‘yan sila [na 21],” she said.
Tragic experience of welfare staff
Lorna Navarro, welfare assistant (WA) at the drop-in center, said she can still remember their homosexual patient who hanged himself to death four years ago.
Navarro said the city government provided for the funeral, burial, and lot in the cemetery.
“Nagtali siya dyan sa may CR doon sa selda. Tumawag kami ng KAAC. Pagdating ng KAAC nagbubula na po ang bunganga niya. Tinawagan na lang ang pamilya, pumunta sila. Dito lang binurol tapos ‘yong mga kamag-anak pumupunta [lang] dito,” she said.
Navarro said she can still recall this same patient who committed suicide once threw a tantrum that she hid under her table in fear of him.
“Nag-wala tapos mag-isa lang po ako dito. Hindi siya nakatali. Binato-bato niya itong opisina lahat basag. Dito ako tumago sa ilalim [ng lamesa ko],” Navarro said.
Below-minimum wage of the facility personnel
Nuevo said HHDC has six staff in all: three males and three females.
Their team is comprised of a program manager or the executive staff, two utility workers (UW), an encoder/liaison, a welfare assistant (WA), and one social welfare assistant (SWA) to the executive.
Nuevo said aside from their program manager, all five of them are only job order (JO) workers under the City Government.
Her salary as SWA is P250 per day, while the four other JOs receive a daily salary of P225 each.
City Council’s take
Councilor Roy Ventura, the chairperson of the committee on health at the Council, said the City Government is planning to transfer the facility to another feasible area.
However, he admitted the City Government has not yet decided when and where to move HHDC.
“Aayusin ‘yan kasi medyo hindi na maganda ‘yan. Pagagandahin natin. Kailangan tulungan nga ‘yan eh. At saka dapat ‘yong pamilya nila concerned din sa kanila, hindi lang nila i-asa sa gobyerno. Iyong iba kasi diyan ini-a-asa na lang sa gobyerno napababayaan na ‘yong kamag-anak nila na mag-stay diyan,” said Ventura.
“Napa-prioritize naman ‘yan. Hindi lang naman taga-city ang gumagamit niyan, pati mga taga-ibang lugar sa labas ng city. Bale bibigyan natin ng pansin depende sa recommendation ng ating CSWD,” he added.
Ventura said it is the call of the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) to determine its priorities.
He said HHDC has its funds coming from the annual budget for the city under the CSWD and from the 20 percent development fund.
“Meron din sa CSWD, meron din sa general fund natin sa 20 percent general fund natin for development,” he added.
However, Ventura was not able to give the exact figures yet.
Mental health is not the city government’s priority
Panganiban said the “Philippine Government in general” places not as its top priority the mental health of the people because of more pressing issues at hand.
Panganiban said the government as a whole is aware of problems like this but addresses it as if it is one of the country’s least concerns.
“I guess kapag titingnan mo kasi ‘yong morbidity wala naman siya doon sa top ten. Pero it doesn’t mean na hindi mo na siya… pero ‘yon nga, siyempre ‘pag ikaw tinitingnan mo ‘yong isang bagay, ipa-prioritize mo ‘yong nasa taas na problem,” said Panganiban.
He said Puerto Princesa has no public or private psychiatrist at all.
Panganiban said it is through his efforts that led a psychiatrist from Manila, Dr. Jonani Sajo, to visit the city once a month.
“Buti nga kamo nakakuha ako ng visiting psychiatrist na nagti-tiyagang pumunta dito. Magkano lang ang kaniyang honorarium, twenty-five thousand, tapos siya pa ang namamasahe, sagot niya pa ang kaniyang accommodation,” said Panganiban.
“Kapag nandito siya Monday doon siya sa consultation sa Health Center, then Tuesday diyan siya sa Drop-In,” he added.
He said this regular visitation started in 2017, but Sajo is now contemplating to carry out the program only until December this year.
Panganiban said the City Government has not yet stated any further plans for HHDC.
CHO looks forward to strengthened mental health programs and facility
Panganiban said he still hopes that every program and facility the city presently has towards mental wellness will never be hampered.
Panganiban also stated he expects the region to establish a mental facility in the province by 2029.
“The most sana sa ngayon sana matuluy-tuloy ‘yong kung anong meron kami ngayon. Malaking bagay na ‘yong nagagawa namin sa ngayon. Siguro mga ten years from now sana ‘yong region mag-lagay na ng mental facility dito sa buong Palawan,” said Panganiban.