KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 – Mental health professionals can qualify for the special Covid-19 allowance, but emergency staff are eligible only if they’re part of the coronavirus team, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
In an updated list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) dated April 9 on the RM600 monthly Covid-19 special allowance for public health care workers, MOH announced that psychologists, psychiatrists, and counsellors can receive the allowance if they are directly involved in handling Covid-19 cases.
“The Psychiatric / Counselling / Psychology Officer is eligible for payment of this special allowance if the officer is directly involved in giving counselling services to patients-under-investigation (PUI) and confirmed Covid-19 patients emotionally, mentally and physically,” said the FAQ.
“At the same time, (this also includes) the officers who provide counselling services to frontline health care personnel dealing with Covid-19 outbreak.”
Emergency department staff, however, are not eligible for the allowance if they are not directly involved in handling Covid-19 cases.
The FAQ gave an example of a medical assistant named Abu at the Emergency and Trauma Department (ETD) whose shift saw two people suspected of coronavirus infection undergo a health screening by the Covid-19 work team in the ETD’s isolation room. Abu was not involved in handling the coronavirus cases, although he wore personal protective equipment (PPE) like an apron, a surgical mask, and gloves as preventive measures.
“The head of department must issue a clear work schedule to workers at the Emergency and Trauma Department to determine a team of workers that specifically handles PUI and Covid-19 patients,” said the FAQ.
Abu, as per the example, is not eligible for the Covid-19 allowance because he is not part of the team that handles PUI and Covid-19 patients. However, if he helps in handling these cases because of insufficient workers in the Covid-19 team at the ETD, then he may be considered for payment of the allowance, subject to acknowledgement by the supervisor managing Covid-19 cases at the ETD.
MOH gave another example of a medical assistant from the ETD named Kiah, who is instructed to handle suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients when they come in, but resumes her normal duties at the ETD when there are no coronavirus cases. In March, she handled Covid-19 cases only for five days.
“Kiah is only allowed to claim according to the number of days when officers handle Covid-19 cases, which was five days for the month of March. Therefore, Kiah can qualify for payment of the special allowance of only RM200 for claims in March 2020,” said the FAQ.
According to MOH, beneficiaries must claim for the RM600 Covid-19 allowance by the 10th of the next month; only one claim per month is allowed.
For work performed from February 1 to March 31, one can claim for the full RM400 Covid-19 allowance (the original rate when it was introduced last February) if one works at least 15 days in one calendar month, or RM200 if one works fewer days.
The new RM600 rate applies to duties starting on April 1, with the full amount granted for at least 15 days’ work in one calendar month, or RM300 for fewer days’ work.
MOH’s latest FAQ stated that no minimum hours of work have been set in a day to qualify for the special Covid-19 allowance, but urged heads of department to schedule a reasonable number of hours of work a day to ensure a fair and balanced work schedule.
A government doctor alleged that the majority of frontliners would not be getting the full RM600 Covid-19 allowance, as the criteria set were too restrictive.
“The majority of HCW (health care workers) are doing two-week shifts, just one day shy of the required 15 days. As such, we will be paid half, which is the same as someone doing one day exposed to the frontlines,” the doctor told CodeBlue on condition of anonymity.
“Perhaps only the Covid CPRC (Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre) and management teams will qualify. Don’t get me wrong, the dedication and commitment to serve from the health care workers won’t waver due to this, but it does feel like the giving of RM600 is good PR, but poor implementation.”
Members of Covid-19 preparedness committees set up by hospital directors to plan, monitor, and coordinate Covid-19 epidemic action plans in hospitals qualify for the special coronavirus allowance, though sub-committees are not eligible. The scope of work covered by the special Covid-19 allowance also includes participating in the CPRC on action plans to tackle the outbreak.
Separately, medical officers who are undergoing specialist training programmes under the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan scholarship and are placed in MOH hospitals and university hospitals are also eligible for the allowance, if they are directed by their head of department to manage Covid-19 cases.
As for university hospital staff, MOH has asked them to refer to the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE).
“University hospitals are under supervision of MOHE. Therefore, officers serving at university hospitals are under the responsibility of the MOHE. Any payment of the allowance is required to be referred to MOHE.”
According to the FAQ, eligible medical workers for the special coronavirus allowance are essentially those directly involved in handling and managing Covid-19 cases, which include administrative assistants who register Covid-19 cases, drivers and ambulance drivers who transport Covid-19 cases, paramedics and laboratory officers handling Covid-19 screening test samples, as well as health care assistants transferring Covid-19 clinical samples.
Those eligible also include catering crews in charge of food for PUI wards; employees of the public health programme conducting infection control activities for MOH health facilities; forensic staff handling bodies of deceased Covid-19 patients; those involved in Covid-19 planning committees; as well as officers in the control room who are involved in the administration chain of Covid-19.
Also included are trainees working in MOH facilities and handling Covid-19 cases; retired officers rehired via contract; private sector officers called to be on duty in public hospitals; as well as medical officers placed in treatment areas, screening counters and wards of influenza like-illness (ILI), acute respiratory infection (ARI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) patients.
On the other hand, MOH staff who are not directly involved with Covid-19 cases do not qualify for the special allowance, including administrative assistants who handle registration of normal patients; counter staff in charge of normal patients; IT officers and technicians in charge of repair and technical support services in Covid-19 screening areas, isolation wards, recovery rooms and so on; auxiliary police manning public traffic in hospitals; cadet staff like security guards from the Chief Government Security Office who are involved in screening processes; as well as security officers managing traffic in screening drive-through counters.
Apart from that, those who are not eligible also include medical workers involved in promotional works like distributing flyers to public; hospital staff like engineers who are involved in the monitoring, maintenance, repairs and upgrades of facilities or areas used to conduct screening and treatment for individuals suspected of Covid-19 or infected patients; staffs involved in temperature screening in hospital entrances; as well as ER medical officers who are not directly dealing with Covid-19 cases.
Furthermore, employees involved in emergency medical equipment procurement; staff of the CPRC or Bilik Gerakan who have been directed to work from home due to their status as PUI; members of Covid-19 planning sub-committees; officers involved in control room maintenance; and volunteers handling Covid-19 cases are not eligible for the special Covid-19 allowance.
Earlier this month, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii called for the special Covid-19 allowance to cover other health care workers beyond doctors and those directly involved in managing the outbreak.
The Sarawakian MP said ETD workers like medical officers, housemen, medical assistants, and staff nurses should qualify for the special RM600 monthly Covid-19 allowance. He also urged the government to extend the allowance to hospital cleaners, pharmacists, essential medical supplies logistics coordinators, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and counsellors.
MOH’s latest FAQ did not address hospital cleaners.