Strong leadership for building innovative models: Reflections from a national event in the Philippines (Part 2 of 4)

Editor's note: This blog post is the second in a series of posts about the Development Policy Research Month that CHMI partner the Philippines Institute of Development Studies held in Manila during September 2013. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn more about take-aways from the event! Here is a link to the first blog post in the series. 

Innovations are driven by many factors. During our search for innovative schemes on health, our team had witnessed how innovations boom in different parts of the country. While most of these health market innovations (HMIs) were triggered by challenges in the health care system, there were critical factors that facilitated the success and sustainability of HMIs. What our team had observed was the enthusiasm of the leaders, who were part in the conceptualization and implementation of these innovations.

Last September 17, 2013, the Philippine Institute for Development studies hosted a forum titled, “Sustainable, and Inclusive Health Market Innovations: Challenges and Opportunities in the Philippines.” This forum highlighted some of the best HMIs in the country. As the remarkable schemes of these programs are presented, the audience was captured by the leadership skills and passion shown by the implementers as they share their own innovations.

Department of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla, who was the former governor of the province Leyte shared their experiences in the implementation three HMIs namely: Mother Bles Birthing Clinics, Special Service Fee and the PhilHealth Link. The participation of the local government unit of Leyte varied across these three innovations. For the Mother Bles Birthing Clinics, the province of Leyte provided for the location and structure to build the clinics. Secretary Petilla significantly contributed in coming up with the concept and the operational scheme of the Special Service Fee. While the PhilHealth Link is primarily implemented by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation Region 8 (PhilHealth Region 8), this office has been getting huge support from the local government of Leyte in the expansion of the program among government hospitals in the region. It also worth noting that the strong partnership between the LGU and Philhealth Region 8, and the sustainability of this program was highly influenced by the strong leadership of their Regional Vice President Walter Bacareza.

Despite the different degrees of participation, one would not miss remarking the active involvement of Secretary Petilla himself in the implementation of these programs. Even during our field visit, the team had observed how well the Secretary knew about these programs. He had been working hands-on to make sure that implementation and monitoring of these programs were going smoothly. During our interview with him, we were pleasantly surprised and amazed by his familiarity with the details of the program. His ideas for the programs were also impressive. We felt his intention and strong determination of placing the health conditions in Leyte one of his top priorities. The HMIs are effectively implemented by efficient teams, which are behind the program operations, and which also are motivated and guided under good leadership of Secretary Petilla.

The success story of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City includes improvements in facilities, services, and management. Most of the government hospitals in the Philippines are faced with problems such as poor facilities, low quality of services, lack of medical personnel and lack of financial resources. The case of SPMC is exceptional. The hospital has been well-recognized for the schemes which it has implemented to solve such challenges. The chief of hospital, Dr. Leopoldo Vega, was one of the brilliant minds behind the innovative schemes at SPMC. Being a doctor by profession, Dr. Vega has been aware of the needs of a hospital to provide quality health care services. He also knew the common issues in the health care system. As the head administrator of the hospital, Dr. Vega had the initiative to come up with solutions to address the pressing problems of the hospital. He had connected with different partners to implement projects for the improvement of the hospital.

Among the schemes currently implemented is the drug consignment, of which SPMC was one of the first hospitals in the country to use this approach. Under Dr. Vega’s leadership, important projects were also rolled out, such as acquisition of high-cost machines through public-private partnerships. The hospital was also able put up extended-care facilities through grants from both government and non-government organizations. Dr. Vega’s leadership has been indeed advantageous in the actualization of planned programs. His managerial skills have helped mobilize the hospital administrators and formulate good programs for the hospital. The hospital’s wide network, which can also be attributed to his efforts, has been beneficial in meeting the financial needs of the projects.

As I have described, leadership is very crucial in the success of any program, or innovation for that matter. Unique and remarkable ideas can come from a leader who has the determination to do the job well. Under a decentralized government, like the Philippines, basic services such that on health are highly dependent on the performance of the local leader. The team was glad to know that in the country, we have local leaders such as Former Governor Petilla, who had exerted significant efforts to address the needs of his constituents. And what else could better complement a strongly-driven heart than a creative and novel mind? The education and experiences of Dr. Vega have been advantageous to his leadership and in coming up with innovative ways to solve the challenges faced by SPMC.

From our team’s experience in identifying health market innovations in the Philippines, we saw that exemplary models can only be possible when there is strong leadership. Leadership provides the direction and vision for a particular organization, and can also influence other’s thoughts and actions. However, an effective leader likewise acts on its own plans and goals. It is not enough that a leader comes up with good ideas and plans. A good leader should also have the capacity and determination to actively pursue the effective implementation and sustainability of the programs. This is the kind of leadership that is necessary for a successful innovation.

Photo: Secretary  Petilla with Usec Valera and Oscar Picazo