Sunday, December 19, 2010

*229. CLARK AIR BASE HOSPITAL: "Medical Center of Southeast Asia"

CALL THE DOCTOR VERY QUICK. USAF Clark Hospital, "Asia's Military Medical Center", figured prominently during the Vietnam War years. Wounded or injured military were flown from Vietnam for treatment in this full service hospital. Staffed with American and Filipino medical specialists, the base hospital served the medical needs of American civilians as well as Filipinos. Ca. 1966.

Whenever I pass by the duty free shops of the new Clark Field, I can’t help but notice the sorry remains of the USAF Hospital Clark, located at the back of McDonald’s. Once touted in the ‘60s as “Asia’s Military Medical Center”, only the ruins of the Clark Hospital now stands, itself a victim of the Pinatubo eruption, its contents long lost to thieves and looter, and then left to the elements to decay.

Though covered and overgrown with weeds and foliage, I could still make out the shell of the building with its signature fa├žade lined with ceramics. In recent years , the hospital site has become the favorite haunt of ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers, who go there in search of a good scare, hoping to find spectral apparitions and other spirits.

In its time however, the Clark Hospital was the savior of thousands of American military men and their families, and is recognized for its exceptional medical services and treatment of soldiers during the Vietnam War. At the height of the War, 70% of patients were soldiers who sustained varying degrees of injuries in the battlefields.

Opening its doors in December 1964, the new Clark Air Base Hospital was built in the early ‘60s for $5 million, to answer the primary health care of U.S. military personnel and their dependents stationed not only in the Philippines, but all over Southeast Asia. It had the most modern facilities for almost all kinds of medical care , except heart surgery and neurosurgery. It had a Laboratory, X-ray facilities, a Pharmacy, and an efficient Emergency Room open 24/7.

In 1966, under the directorship of Col. William Hernquist, the out-patient service routinely treats 17,000 patients per month, while it dental services department takes on about 35,000 cases. The hospital personnel is mostly American, including its nursing staff. Essentially a military institution, rules are strict at the Clark Hospital, especially with regards to patient confidentiality and access to the wards where the patients are.

Interestingly, the hospital also offered specialized training services to local medical residents in the fields of veterinary medicine, sanitation, immunization and public health care. In 1966, the American hospital had 21 Filipino medics, --mostly graduates from Manila schools-- under its training program, detailed in the medical, pediatric and orthopedic wards. They were paid from only Php 200-300 monthly, but with free board and lodging.

The reputation of USAF Hospital Clark as the ‘Medical Center of Southeast Asia’ continued through the 70s and 80s, only to end with eruption of Mount Pinatubo that buried and severely damage the hospital in 1991. The biggest blow yet were the pillagers who looted and stripped the building of its world-class equipment like hospital beds, operating tables, incubators, oxygen tanks, medicine cabinets, wheelchairs and walkers. Even glass doors, lavatory parts and bedpans made their appearance for re-sale in the second-hand shops of Dau.

In a twist of irony, the death of the hospital gave post-Pinatubo Dau—which had depended on its PX goods shops-- a new lease on its life by jumpstarting a new enterprise. Today, Mabalacat’s most prosperous barangay has a growing medical supply business, thriving alongside stores that sell consumer durables, household tools and auto and agricultural machinery. Proving once and for all that in heath, there indeed,wealth.

4 comments:

FABBY'S LIVING said...

I just ran into this post of your Christine and found it so very intereting, I'm a very curious person about the worl and it's people. I love to learn all this, thank yu so much for sharing with us such amazing stories, about amazing people from your beautiful country-

FABBY

alex r. castro said...

Thanks for your nice words. Appreciate it!

Jack Jackson said...

Alex, I was stationed at USAF Medical Center, Clark, from 1967 - 1969. I was a young Airman and this was my first Air Force assignment. Seeing this view of the hospital brings back lots of memories. I was a Surgical Technician and during the Viet Nam War we worked 14 - 16 hours sometimes trying to save the wounded. Jack Jackason

alex r. castro said...

Well, we only have these picture to remember the hospital by. It's now in ruis, and overgrown with foliage, deserted and pillaged at the height of the Pinatubo eruption.