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Caring beyond hospital walls

(FIRST OF 2 PARTS)

Something good comes out of every crisis. This is a story about how a group of medical specialists and nurses tried to answer the call at a time when hospitals were overflowing with patients, most of whom were COVID-stricken during the Delta variant surge that overwhelmed the healthcare system nationwide. Going to the hospital was not the best option for the sick due to lack of beds and the high risk of hospital-acquired infection. The patients had no choice but to stay home, hoping to be treated there.

An internist/cardiologist and a pediatric surgeon’s concern and compassion brought together nine specialists and 2 concerned non-doctor friends to put up a community-based healthcare program that will help COVID-stricken and those with non-COVID ailments be treated immediately and recover.

Balay Atipan’s medical specialists and key people (left to right) Eric Montinola, Dr. John David – nephrologist, Dr. John Alejano – pediatric surgery, Dr. Melvin Ibanez, Nelson Huerva, Dr. Amado Aguirre – neuropsychiatrist and Dr. Dolores Rommela Tiples-Ruiz who is an infectious disease specialist and a former member of the TWG of the city’s IATF.*

The idea was conceptualized when Dr. John Alejano, a pediatric surgeon, who did a business study on home care for the elderly as a requirement for an MBA in Hospital Administration degree, chanced upon Dr. Melvin Ibanez, a former board member of Negros Occidental, in June of 2021. Sharing a common desire to assist COVID patients who needed medical attention right away, they started to plan a home healthcare service in the community. The idea was as simple as instituting hospital-level-of-care in patients’ homes, converting their bedroom into a hospital room, unofficially calling it as homefirmary.

According to Dr. Alejano, the concept of home care has been in practice in countries like the United States, mostly caring for the elderly. He said, due to the pandemic, it rapidly evolved into a hospital at home care, which came in various names. In Singapore, a government hospital under the Ministry of Health, which focuses on the treatment of less toxic, non-COVID patients, calls it Mobile-in-Patient Care@Home, to free up beds for COVID. The Mayo clinic started their own and called it Hospital at Home, wherein their healthcare organization does not only provide quality hospital-level care to patients in the community, but with an objective to reduce health care cost, improve treatment outcome, and at the same time, enhance patient experience.

Anna Balcells became critically ill due to the Delta variant but survived through home care.*

The two doctors gathered the medical specialists, organized the nursing team, set-up the system with telemedicine and information system, took the great leap of faith by introducing home care called Balay Atipan to the community on October 2, 2021 without conducting a business study because they wanted to help save lives amid the pandemic.

Balay and atipan are Hiligaynon terms for home and care. It introduced the first comprehensive online homecare system in the province and started providing services like COVID and non-COVID IV therapy, COVID therapy with caregiver, care kit, wound care and special procedures, among others. 

Just a month after Balay Atipan went operational, its healthcare heroes saved Anna Balcells who went critically ill. Balcells refused to go to the hospital despite the severity of her condition. “She told us she’d rather die in her home than in the hospital,” Alejano recalled.

“When I was hit badly with COVID last November, I had all the severe symptoms – low oxygen, difficulty in breathing, altered sense of taste, body aches and debilitating weakness. Worse, I ended up with double pneumonia,” shared Balcells.

According to her, employing the healthcare service provider’s services was the best decision she made because aside from the convenience of having all tests and procedures done at the comforts of her home and deliver and administering her medications, she was assigned two wonderful nurses who monitored everything and relayed it to her team of doctors in real-time.

“All the worries and anxieties I initially had – they really took that weight off my shoulders. Twenty-five days in total isolation was incredibly difficult, but due to the assurance of care that they have afforded me, I was able to rest and recuperate with peace of mind that I was getting proper and immediate care,” she added.* (to be continued)

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