The architect as a frontliner

October 27, 2020 | By: ARCH. REYNALDO M. CRISTOBAL JR. (as published in The Manila Times last October 27, 2020)

IN the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, medical professionals emerged as new heroes of the country as they serve assiduously in the front lines. Doctors, nurses and medical technologists were then given appropriate privileges such as a courtesy lane at the banks and groceries to save them some valuable time in queuing up. It is rightfully fitting as they literally brave the threat of acquiring the deadly Covid-19 virus while they look after Covid-19 suspects and probable cases.

However, there were also other kinds of frontliners that were behind the spotlight — basic utility staff, funeral and crematorium staff, waste management staff, and others who continued to work and risk their lives during quarantine periods, while everyone else were asked to stay at home. Yours truly, for example, is an architect who remained at the front lines since the quarantine began and until today. Nevertheless, most would probably be asking: “What does an architect do as a frontliner?”

Being the building administrator of Valenzuela City Emergency Hospital (VCEH), I worked side by side with Hospital Director Dr. Rolando Tecson; Administrative Officer Dr. Mark Rey Matias; Infection Prevention and Control Officer Dr. Angelo De Guzman; and Out-Patient Department Head Dr. Laurice Dela Peña. Through the solid leadership of City Mayor Rexlon.
Gatchalian, Valenzuela City has remained within the top five performing cities in response to Covid-19 ever since the start of the pandemic.

Building administration is defined in the Standards of Professional Practice Document 205, which is a required document under Section 41 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 9266 or otherwise known as “The Architecture Act of 2004,” as “beyond maintenance and upkeep functions. It requires the services of a multi-disciplinary professional who can perform a wide range of functions for the efficient and economical operation and maintenance of a building, facility or a complex.”

True enough, building administration at VCEH is more than just repairing what is broken. It involves space planning with respect to infection control, environmental management, preventive maintenance, fire and safety hazard management and the overall cleanliness of the facility. It can sometimes be quite challenging, especially during this time.

VCEH’s response to the pandemic started off as early as Feb. 12, 2020, as the city, through the Office of the Building Administrator in coordination with the Public Information Office and City Health Office, implemented an information drive posting infographics at strategic locations within the hospital wherein the general public can read and be informed of the threat of Covid-19 and its prevention.

Safety and security protocols were immediately intensified. Entry restrictions were put in place to limit the probability of spreading the virus within the hospital. Anyone noted as “Suspect,” “Probable” or “Confirmed” cases on their triaging forms, laboratory request forms or radiologic request forms were prevented from entering the building. They were assisted by VCEH staff so that they can be given proper medical treatment and attention. A “No Mask No Entry” policy was also immediately implemented. Everyone was reminded to wear mask within the hospital premises. Furthermore, to limit the chances of infection, VCEH strictly monitored the implementation of “One Patient One Guardian Only.”

Thermal scanning procedures using non-contact infrared thermometers were put in place as part of safety and security measures. Everyone entering the hospital were reminded to use the touch-free alcohol dispensers. Social distancing was stringently observed and implemented by the security officers. I personally meet with the security team on a semi-monthly basis for updates and reminders, and constantly communicate with the Security-in-Charge to ensure that health protocols are practiced.

As the building administrator, I also worked closely with Dr. Rey Matias, Dr. De Guzman and Dr. Dela Peña regarding the space reconfiguration around the hospital to address infection prevention and control issues. An entire floor level of the main building was dedicated to Covid-19 patients, following the standards set forth by the Department of Health.

Furthermore, as a licensed environmental planner and the registered pollution control officer of VCEH, I also gave emphasis on the importance of segregation and proper waste disposal. As Covid-19 is transmitted through droplets of body fluids such as saliva, waste bins were strategically located in the hospital premises for the discarding of leftover food, utensils, tissues and the like. We also ensured that infectious wastes were segregated and collected by the hazardous waste transporter.

Close coordination with the contractor and the head of the City Special Projects Office, Mr. Glenn Encarnacion, was also required for the city’s own molecular laboratory that was built within the hospital premises. With its recent acquirement of its license to operate, Mayor Gatchalian is very positive that this would ease out the waiting period for the Covid-19 testing procedures, and greatly help in the city’s fight against Covid-19.

The VCEH, through the Office of the Building Administrator in coordination with the Mayor’s Chief-of-Staff Ulysses C. Aguilar, has also upgraded our temporary isolation tents for better customer service and patient satisfaction. The new tents were provided with four cubicles with individual curtains, portable aircon for each patient cubicle, and an exhaust system.

Building administration in a hospital can be quite challenging, especially during these times of pandemic. You will have to stay updated of what is going on around you, and even overseas to try and figure out the best practices around the world. The pressure at work is intensified with the worry that you might acquire the deadly virus. Despite practicing personal hygiene the threat can really be felt, especially if you start feeling sick. Working in the frontlines will have you thinking, “Is this a symptom?” “Have I caught the virus?” “Have I been lax lately?” “Have I passed this to my wife, my family?” Nevertheless, you still keep going, you still keep fighting knowing that it is your job to be at the front lines. The building you are assigned with is the kingdom you have to protect and defend. The call to do your duty has never been greater. That is why, as an architect-frontliner, I continue to strive to do my best to serve Valenzuelanos and the Filipino people as a whole, for the love of the nation. Together, we shall soon heal and rebuild as one!

Arch. Reynaldo M. Cristobal Jr., UAP, PIEP, RMP is a graduate of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 2007. He spent his required two-year post-baccalaureate work locally and, after passing the board exams in 2009, went to Singapore and worked there for eight years. He presently works at the City Government of Valenzuela as the building administrator of the Valenzuela City Emergency Hospital. He is also a part-time college instructor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Architecture and Fine Arts. He is currently pursuing a degree in Master in Architecture, Major in Construction Technology Management at the Technological University of the Philippines Manila. He was recently inaugurated as Chapter President of the United Architects of the Philippines Makati CBD Chapter for Fiscal Year 2020-2021.

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