The Ayala Group was just going back to its roots when it reentered the Philippines’ healthcare sector with the acquisition of the Generika drugstores and establishment of AC Health in 2015, 180 years since the group started out with Botica Zobel.
That was a big leap forward for the group that has long been committed to investing in social infrastructure and human capital.
And it has proven to be a fortuitous one as just five years later, AC Health, a wholly owned subsidiary of the country’s oldest and largest conglomerate, would emerge as a key partner in the country’s urgent quest to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the economy and the public health system.
“While no one expected that a global pandemic will occur in 2020, we felt it was serendipitous that we invested in healthcare when we did,” said AC Health President Paolo Borromeo.
Thus when the pandemic struck the country hard in 2020, AC Health’s health ecosystem was already firmly in place and built on three pillars: pharmaceuticals, clinics and hospitals and digital health.
From the initial foray in 2015 with the acquisition of the Generika drugstores, AC Health has rapidly expanded its portfolio to include IE Medica as well as MedEthix, a major pharmaceutical importer and distributor.
On the clinics and hospital side, AC Health now owns Healthway, the country’s largest network of primary care, multi-specialty, and corporate clinics, and recently took control of QualiMed, a comprehensive network of full-service hospitals, multi-specialty clinics, and stand-alone day surgery centers.
Health tech solutions
AC Health is also investing in health technology solutions. It partnered with Globe’s 917 Ventures to launch HealthNow, an all-in-one healthcare app that offers telemedicine consultations, online medicine ordering and delivery, and clinic and diagnostic testing booking.
HealthNow is envisioned to be a healthcare super app that aggregates different healthcare services into one platform, the first of its kind in the Philippines. Beyond providing access to easy teleconsultation solutions and securing medical records, HealthNow also allows doctors to seamlessly monitor and assist in the journey of their patients.
“Throughout the crisis, AC Health and the Ayala Group have been able to help the country in a very significant way. We leveraged the AC Health network to respond to the crisis and embody its mission to improve healthcare for all, especially when the need arose. It was both fortuitous and challenging to run healthcare businesses with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Borromeo said.
“The pandemic highlighted the importance of AC Health’s ecosystem approach and emphasized the need for collaboration between government, private sector, and communities towards our vision of improving healthcare,” Borromeo added.
That spirit of collaboration and cooperation amid the devastation caused by COVID-19 extended to the whole of the Ayala Group which decided early into the pandemic last year to protect its own people – all 58,000 employees – and stakeholders.
“While no one expected that a global pandemic will occur in 2020, we felt it was serendipitous that we invested in healthcare when we did.”AC Health President Paolo Borromeo.
According to John Philip Orbeta, Ayala Corp. Managing Director and Group Head for Corporate Resources, the group’s first response was to protect employees from both a financial and work-related standpoint.
“Work-from-home arrangements were made available, particularly to those with pre-existing health conditions, living with an elderly member of the family, and everyone else who is considered “high risk.” Employees under work-from-home setup were empowered with the digital tools they need to fulfill their tasks and collaborate with their teammates,” he said.
The Ayala group also renewed our commitment to its partners.
Aside from offering loan payment extension and rent reprieve to the group’s MSME partners and mall tenants, it also launched the Ayala Enterprise Circle as a platform to engage, upskill, and empower the over 250,000 SMEs who are either clients or partners of Ayala.
“For the broader Filipino community, we worked with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and Caritas Manila on Project Ugnayan, where we convened over 270 private entities to raise P1.7 billion worth of food vouchers for the most economically vulnerable families in the Greater Manila Area,” Orbeta said.
“We also collaborated with different local government units. We donated RT-PCR machines to several hospitals, including the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila, Quezon City and to as far south as the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, to help increase the testing capacity of local governments in various regions. Ayala and Globe also partnered Pasig City and City of Manila, to provide affordable and reliable Internet connection to the public,” he added.
As for AC Health, Borromeo said that as soon as a global pandemic was declared in March last year, AC Health served as a key knowledge resource for the country’s response efforts.
“More concretely, we leveraged our own ecosystem of services, to participate in key areas of support against COVID-19. This included extending frontline care by maintaining operations of our drugstores, clinics, and online platforms,” he said.
In the pharma space, AC Health’s priority was to ensure a continuous supply of medicines and personal protective equipment to fulfill the needs of our medical professionals and customers. Medicine pick-up and delivery services were also launched to improve access to products for customers and patients with limited mobility.
Operations also continued across the Healthway clinic network to help decongest overburdened hospitals, see non-COVID-19 patients, and triage suspected cases.
AC Health also launched Healthway At Home, which offers home healthcare services such as COVID-19 RT-PCR testing, laboratory testing, primary care consultation, physical therapy, vaccination, and medicine delivery.
Then in the digital health space, AC Health launched an integrated digital health platform connecting patients with various providers through HealthNow. In addition to these, AC Health supported the government’s overall priority to ramp up testing and treatment capabilities for the country.
On COVID-19 testing, the Ayala Group, led by AC Health, formed a consortium with private sector partners to contribute an additional capacity of 5,500 RT-PCR tests per day, in support of the DOH’s and the IATF’s Project T3 (Test, Trace, Treat). As of today, the laboratories have already conducted over 150,000 tests.
On treatment, AC Health also worked with the QualiMed network to expand and upgrade its QualiMed Sta. Rosa (Laguna) and QualiMed San Jose Del Monte (Bulacan) into COVID-19 referral hospitals. Since the beginning of the pandemic, AC Health’s network of QualiMed hospitals and Healthway clinics has triaged over 500,000 patients.
Moving towards vaccines in the latter part of the year, AC Health also supported the DOH and the IATF in the development of the country’s vaccine strategy and secured an initial batch of doses for the Ayala Group through a tripartite agreement.
Borromeo said commiting early to support COVID-19 response efforts was one of AC Health’s best decisions in 2020 as it allowed the group to build relationships with the government and across the private sector and do its share in promoting public health through its integrated care network.
The COVID-19 response efforts have also given AC Health the opportunity to quickly build up its capabilities for the future and innovate on care delivery throughout the pandemic.
“We have also completed the integration of our family, multispecialty, and corporate clinics into one Healthway brand to become the largest network of clinics in the country and acquired controlling stake of the QualiMed network which includes 4 hospitals: Qualimed Sta. Rosa located in Nuvali, Qualimed San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan, Qualimed Iloilo in Iloilo City, and Daniel O. Mercado Medical Center in Tanauan, Batangas. Combined, these milestones complete the entire continuum of patient care, from primary clinics, multi-specialty care, and now to hospital care,” he said.
AC Health also finalized the partnership for its specialty cancer hospital with the Cancer Treatment Services International (CTSI), a Varian company and a leading oncology services provider that has supported the delivery of safe, quality, and affordable cancer care worldwide for nearly two decades.
The 100-bed cancer facility will be located in the FTI Complex in Taguig City, Metro Manila, adjacent to Ayala Land’s Arca South development and is envisioned to be an integral pillar of of AC Health’s integrated healthcare ecosystem.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging more than a year after it hit the country, AC Health is not about to slow down on its efforts to fight the pandemic. On the contrary, it plans to even increase investments to support the DOH-IATF’s National Vaccine Deployment Program.
AC Health aims to launch its COVID vaccination program for employees and partners in June, pending the delivery of procured vaccines from manufacturers and the allocation of vaccines by the national government. The group will leverage its network, which includes Healthway clinics, Qualimed hospitals, Generika drugstores, and the Healthnow app, for large-scale vaccine administration across the country.
AC Health has assembled a team of experts across business units to reach the target of administering a million doses by 2021 across nearly 20 sites nationwide.
The plan is to harness all of the Ayala Group’s formidable resources and partnerships to achieve what every Filipino is yearning for in 2021, the end to the COVID-19 pandemic.