Davao Public Hospital (1917-27)

The population upsurge during the first decade of American rule resulting from the rise of hemp plantations, recruitment of outside laborers, and the strong interest shown by foreign players in the town’s progress was a factor that inspired the district government of Davao to study priorities, especially in the provision of health facilities.

What eventually triggered the building of hospitals in population centers was the series of epidemic that hit town. As a result, the 25-bed Davao Public Hospital (DPH), classified as insular, was opened at San Pedro Street in 1917, a decade after the Davao Mission Hospital, the first private sickbay in southern Mindanao, was unveiled by the Protestant sect.

Records show that in 1919, the DPH had a total admission of 486 patients, 96 deaths, P1,199.61 in collections covering the months of September to December, and operations (five major and 10 minor). Overwhelmed by the influx of medical cases that turned the facility into an inadequate resource, the government decided to build a bigger sanatorium. Among the hospital patients were affected by the overpopulation of patients were prominent townspeople.

The Report of the Philippine Health Service in 1920 related that the inadequacy felt at the time pushed the health services agency to double the bed capacity of the new hospital to be built. Because there was not enough fund yet to finance the project, “the administrative office and hospital dispensary were temporarily quartered in the nurses’ dormitory due to lack of space.”

On August 22, 1920, while the expanded facility was under construction, Dr. Simeon B. Macasaet was installed as DPH resident physician, and by the last quarter of 1921, the DPH was transferred to its new home. That year, the hospital recorded a total admission of 593 patients and registered an 8.76% mortality.

By 1922, hospital admissions reached 670, which exceeded the previous years. To augment health services in other regions of Mindanao, the health authorities also constructed more hospitals, sick-wards, and a penal hospital in other parts of Mindanao and Sulu.

A year later, with more well-heeled patients seeking health assistance, the lack of private rooms was intensely felt. But then, there was also a lack of personnel to follow up health issues. To address cases in remote areas, the building of two Antipolo type emergency hospitals were put on track for Mati and Baganga, in Davao Oriental; one was slated for opening in early 1924.

That same year, Mamerta Romana was appointed district nurse while Esperanza Danguilan, Silvina Manglicmot, and Felicidad Arconcel were hired as DPH staff.

Two years later, the DPH, showing signs of improvement in terms of admission and laboratory test payments, registered a 20% “share privilege,” an incentive package granted under Regulation No. 1 and Administrative Order No. 2 of the Philippine Health Service. Effective April 6, 1925, fees from services covered under the privilege were given to hospitals, which got P6,590.26, and physicians, which got a share of P1,647.55.

State data for 1925 revealed that the DPH during the year had 1,700 admissions, 3,260 consultations, 2,827 prescriptions filled, 1,850 dressings, 186 visits made by hospital personnel, 92 operations performed, 5,713 laboratory exams performed, and 46 patients refused admission due to lack of beds. In addition, 1,278 patients were admitted for medical, eye, ear, nose and throat, genitourinary, surgical, dental and obstetrical cases while 1,365 patients were discharged (recovered, improved, unimproved, died, and transferred).

In terms of nationalities treated, three were Americans; 1,095, Filipino Christians; 47, Filipino non-Christians; one, Spaniard; 61, Chinese; 545, Japanese; and two, other nationalities. By sex, 1,095 were males were attended while 659 were females. By age, there were 223 children under 15 years of age that were treated while 1,531 adults were admitted.

On its first decade since its operation, the DPH, with Dr. Jun Fulgosino Belisario as resident physician, was able to have its own contagious pavilion, built with the help of provincial funds. As a result, the facility opened eight more beds, let alone the launching of the plan to build a fountain, presumably for aesthetic purposes, in the hospital premises.

The 1927 hospital records, meanwhile, showed that the DPH, with new equipment and implements acquired, conducted a bigger volume of lab tests for specific medical issues such as blood (739), feces (1,272), sputum (47), water sample (17), milk sample (58), and others (44).

Consistent with the growth of its clientele, the DPH later expanded. After the war, it was renamed as Davao General Hospital, now with an impressive 200-bed capacity. It was in 1957 when the facility was moved to its home at Laurel Avenue and renamed Davao Regional Medical Center pursuant to Republic Act 1859. As health needs expanded in the next decade, the hospital, in 1966, was given its permanent abode at the 12.8-hectare estate where the Southern Philippines Medical Center complex now stands.