Home-cooked meals, comfortable beds, and Netflix: Heaven on earth for our modern-day heroes inside the Meralco Center
Kyla Buenafe, 28 years old and a nurse at The Medical City (TMC), is no stranger to dealing with infectious and airborne diseases. But the COVID-19 virus had rendered everyone stunned as it continued to rage day by day. And with more and more COVID-19 positive patients being admitted, fear set in. She knew then that she would not be going home to her family anytime soon.
With this pandemic, a new breed of heroes has emerged in the form of healthcare workers. And yet, even as they risk their own lives to care for thousands of people afflicted with this highly infectious disease, most must make do with suboptimal sleeping conditions, discrimination and stigma, inability to be with their families, and the dwindling supply of life-saving PPEs.
More than just #KeepingTheLightsOn
In the Easter message of Meralco Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan to employees, he said: “You are bearers of torches that give light to the dark corners of our country—not just mirrors passively reflecting the light of others.”
Meralco reached out to its neighbor, The Medical City, and asked what assistance was needed. They replied that they needed help accommodating some of their frontliners who had been living at the hospital since the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was announced.
And so, without hesitation, Meralco opened its doors to Kyla and 31 other frontliners from TMC who were in urgent need of living quarters more conducive to getting much needed rest.
“These frontliners treat COVID-19 patients and we wanted to do our best to make them feel loved, cared-for, safe, and comfortable,” said Meralco President and CEO Atty. Ray C. Espinosa.
Kyla and her colleagues now call the Multi-Purpose Hall (MPH) at the Meralco Fitness Center in Ortigas their new home for as long as needed.
Provided to these courageous men and women were beddings, amenity kits, home-cooked hot meals four times per day, refrigerator, microwave, exercise equipment, and shower and toilet facilities, internet access, 30 Smart SIM cards, and even a TV with Netflix.
“Para talaga siyang home—parang bahay namin. Hindi namin nararamdaman na napabayaan kami, pagdating namin dito,” Kyla shared.
But more than the material items, it’s the full attention and care that they receive from Meralco that Kyla values more.
“Sa pagkain palang, makikita mo nang may effort talaga, na hindi lang basta-basta binibigay, alam naming binigyan ito ng oras,” she shared. “Kahit medyo malungkot kasi nahiwalay kami sa pamilya, nararamdaman namin na alaga talaga kami.”
Can’t go out, can’t go home, can’t give up
The road to living in Meralco had been rocky, as these healthcare workers, who are sacrificing their own health and time with their families to care for patients, had to contend with the uncertainties of their living situation and even discrimination.”
Debbie Gelera, a 31-year-old nurse at TMC, recalled how she and five others crammed inside a tiny call station after an eight-hour duty on the day news broke out about the community quarantine and the public transportation ban.
“Hindi ko alam paano kami nagkasya dun, hindi talaga namin alam ang mangyayari, kung saan kami magsta-stay,” she said.
Despite these uncertainties, Debbie and her colleagues were only sure of one thing—they couldn’t go home and risk infecting their families.
“Kahit sabihin mong nagsusuot kami ng PPE, hindi mo mapigilan mag-alalala, kaya hindi ko talaga naisip umuwi,” said Debbie.
Debbie recalled her experience trying to rent an apartment near TMC days before the pandemic broke out. She and her colleagues had planned to apply for a lease when they realized that they would have to stay near the hospital to care for COVID-19 patients. However, once potential landlords discovered that they were healthcare workers, their applications were rejected.
Medical Clerk Ruby Apurado, 26, also experienced people staying away from her during a ride home on the MRT during rush hour, a time when people would normally cram the cars without respect for physical space.
But no matter how difficult life has been since the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, none of these frontliners considered giving up on their jobs. For Kyla, Debbie, and Ruby, surrendering was never an option.
“Sinabihan na ako ng parents ko na mag-resign na. Hindi naman namin sila masisisi dahil natatakot din sila, pero mas nanaig pa rin ang kailangan namin gawin,” Debbie said. “Hindi namin naisip na mag-quit kasi kami mismo, naawa sa maiiwan na staff.”
“Iyon ang pinili naming profession at alam namin ang aming kailangang gawin,” Kyla added.
And the biggest reason of all, Kyla explained well: “Every time nakakakita kami na COVID-19 positive na pasyente at uuwi na siya, nakakagaan sa feeling, nakaka-fulfill, nakakataba ng puso.”
The frontliners used to sleep in a conference room on the 11th floor of TMC. But even after taking showers after every shift, the group would still be too exposed to the virus as COVID-19 positive patients were staying on that floor. They eventually moved to the gym at TMC’s Rehabilitation Center. The gym eventually had to resume operations, and the group had to move once more. That was when the call from Meralco came at a most opportune time.
“Lubos po ang pagpapasalamat namin sa Meralco for giving us everything we need. Malaking bagay na maramdaman na may tumutulong sayo para maging komportable ka—na hindi ka nag-iisa ngayon,” said Debbie.
She also pointed out how Meralco provided them with more than what was needed. In fact, she was feeling a little emotional and surprised when a platter of fruits was delivered to them unexpectedly.
“Hindi na nga namin naiisip ang prutas ngayon—naiisip lang namin ‘yung mga basics—kaya nung may dumating na prutas, talagang naramdaman namin na sobrang mahal kami ng Meralco,” she shared.
For 20-year-old Joeffrey Biron, moving into Meralco was more than the home-cooked meals and comfortable beds. For him, it symbolized his livelihood, which will keep him and his family afloat amid uncertainties brought by the pandemic.
Joeffrey, also a frontliner assigned to TMC’s housekeeping unit, said that when news got out that a patient tested positive in TMC, he requested to take some time off work so as not to risk his family getting infected. Aside from his parents, he also lives with his elderly grandmother and a newborn niece —all high-risk persons.
But the community quarantine was extended and no income was coming in.
“Ayaw ako payagan ng magulang ko, kaso wala naman kaming panggastos. Lalo na kung tumagal ‘yung virus ng ilang buwan, mas lalong magugutom kami kaya pumayag nalang sila basta’t mag-iingat ako,” he added.
Joeffrey then asked his supervisor if he can be given an assignment, and fortunately the opportunity to be assigned to Meralco to attend to the needs of the health workers staying there presented itself.
“Naisip ko po kasi na wala na pong income at mahirap umasa sa bigay ng gobyerno kaya nagpasya na lamang po ako na pumasok nalang ulit.” said Joeffrey.
The light of hope
Nurse Kyla calls on to everyone to do their part in flattening the curve.
“Stay home, senior citizens especially. Keep yourselves strong, take your vitamins and eat fruits if there are no vitamins. Get enough sleep, as that is the number one cause of a weakened immune system. And if you have to leave the house to buy food, stay away from the elderly to protect them,” said Kyla.
Housing these critical personnel in our fight against COVD-19 is just one of the many ways that Meralco is fulfilling its civic duty during this difficult and unprecedented time. Aside from ensuring reliable supply of electricity for everyone throughout this crisis, we also want to #KeepTheLightsOn for those who work the hardest to keep our light of hope that we will pull through shining bright.