By Maria Sol Del Castillo, RN, Alpha Acapulco, RN, MSN, & Heather McCartney, RN


We are so blessed we’re able to join NYSNA’s (New York State Nurses Association) delegation to the medical mission to the Philippines. This is our first time to join NYSNA medical mission and it was very fulfilling and heart-warming. It was bittersweet to be helping with the recovery from Typhoon Haiyan from all the way around the world, while back home we were reading reports of the devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and soon from Hurricane Jose! We were not active NYSNA members but after this experience, we see the value of participating with NYSNA activities as a group of nurses because together we can help not just our patients here in New York but also poor people on the other side of the world. This is why we thought it was important to give our report of good work to our colleagues in Mt. Sinai with the hope that nurses and caregivers respond to the call of duty in helping the victims of these hurricanes over the next several months.

We are 14 NY nurses & 1 respiratory therapist, 2 CA nurses and a physical therapist together with 5 physicians and a dentist conducted a medical, surgical and dental medical mission serving over 600 people in 21 barangays (villages) in Basey, Samar on September 9, 2017. The mission was sponsored by Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) and Health Empowerment in Action for Leyte and Samar (HEALS) in partnership with NYSNA and Filipino American Health Workers Association (FAHWA).

The first day our delegation went to the Philippine Orthopedic Center. The local union president Sean Herbert Velchez explained the situation of nurses and patients in the hospital and how they were able to conduct a successful campaign to stop the privatization of their hospital. What was really notable about how they provide care was despite government’s budget cuts to privatize the hospital, nurses and caregivers took care the poorest patients of the poor. In turn, their patients, their families and the people of the community within the neighborhoods near the hospital joined their “sit down strikes” – a creative collective action wherein nurses will do sit-downs during lunch time. They gained popular support that forced the government to junk the plan to privatize their hospital.

The second day we went to Philippine General Hospital where we discovered that hallway patients are a problem in the Philippines, the cause of this phenomenon is lack of staffing and some of the tactics they’ve used to fight back are petition signing, rallies and lobbying of their members in the Philippine Congress. We also visited the National Center for Mental Health were we discovered that their staffing can go as high as 1 RN to 200 psychiatric patients! We felt that the patients’ conditions are inhumane and the hospital looks like a big compound of prisons. The wards are crowded especially the male ward.

Day three we flew to Tacloban and Day Four we visited Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC), the only tertiary level hospital in the Eastern Visayas region serving several islands. What’s interesting is that their situation is better than the hospitals we visited in Manila. Then from Tacloban, Leyte we crossed the famous San Juanico Bridge to Municipality of Basey, Samar Island. We were oriented by the community and they greeted us with children’s cultural performances they prepared for us. The next day we conducted our medical mission! Here are some highlights:

– A mother with her baby walked for 3 hours just to get to the boat to take them to the medical mission site.
– So many respiratory cases and we’re glad Respiratory Therapist Dean Soto, DC37 (District Council 37 union) member, joined us in our mission. He provided treatment to them including the 2 female who are experiencing shortness of breath and asthma attack.
– Served more than 560 medical patients
– Conducted 50 dental procedures. Thanks to EVRMC for providing the dental bus.
– Conducted 6 minor surgeries. A makeshift OR in the Barangay hall was prepared and we had to use the flashlights on our phones as overhead lights.

Throughout the trip the one thing that has been proven to us that nurses and other caregivers, regardless of where they practice, are true heroes of our times.  We look forward to continuing to be of service and to participate in future medical missions where they will be so badly needed in places like the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast, and Mexico.

Thank you to all who supported the Philippines medical mission including those who donated to get Maria Sol’s special cookies. Your heartfelt generosity and kind support made the mission possible!