Filipino entrepreneur builds a company to save lives

A housemaid in a Quezon City subdivision administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR on a grandmother who fainted and stopped breathing one afternoon in early March this year. Within five minutes, the victim regained consciousness and started breathing again.

The patient-a former doctor-survived and upon waking up, wondered how her housemaid learned how to conduct CPR. The housemaid said she had received detailed instructions through the phone from the staff of Pilipinas911 to help revive the unconscious victim, while the ambulance was on the way along the traffic-choked Katipunan Ave. The housemaid called the Pilipinas911 hotline, when the victim collapsed.

"It has made all the difference," says Ruel Salud Kapunan, the 44-year-old founder and managing director of Pilipinas 911 Inc., a privately-owned emergency dispatch company whose employees are internationally-trained and certified for emergency management.

Kapunan is in the business of saving lives. His company professionalizes emergency response by using the right communication technology, equipment, skills and know-how in dealing with medical emergencies and natural disasters.

Kapunan grew up in a family of lawyers, studied Political Science at Ateneo de Manila University, worked at the National Economic and Development Authority, established a company providing technology services, sold that company and with its proceeds brought the 911 service of the US to the Philippines.

"The 911 service is used in 54 countries. But we are only one of maybe three in the world which are private. It is now a model of privatized 911 service," Kapunan says in an interview at a restaurant in Makati City.

Kapunan, who trained to become a licensed medical emergency technician and is accredited by the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch, says his company was able to help the victim because the victim's daughter-a manager at a travel agency in Makati City-is a subscriber of Pilipinas911. Most of Kapunan's clients are companies that provide Pilipinas911 service as a benefit package, at a cost of P800 a year per employee. Employees have the opportunity to include their family members in the package.

Pilipinas911, with a single hotline, is available 24-hours a day, including holidays, according to Kapunan. It features a computer-aided system manned by certified and skilled call-takers, with medical background.

Pilipinas911 now has more than 20,000 cardholders, including family members, up from 6,000 members when it began operations in June 2013. "Our first client is an international foundation, with 2,000 cardholders, including employees plus family members. That's when I proved that companies are willing to pay for emergency response coverage," he says.

Since then, Pilipinas911 has handled 2,200 cases and dispatched ambulance or emergency response teams 600 times. "Out of those 2,200 calls, half or 1,100 were police-related. About 600 are medical emergencies. We expect the numbers to increase, along with the rise in number of subscribers," he says.

"The government supports it, because they know there is a gap [in emergency response]. It just has to be understood by businesses on how we can complement other medical services. We are not HMO [health maintenance organization] or insurance company. Others call our service employee safety program or private emergency service," says Kapunan.

Kapunan says Pilipinas911 has the equipment and expertise to handle emergency cases, which the human resources department of a company does not necessarily have. "Employers do not have to handle the emergency cases of their employees, because that might not be their core competence. So why not leave it to us. Let us be their partner to handle the emergencies of their employees," he says.

Medical emergencies are among the leading causes of death, according to the World Health Organization. "Data show that 300,000 die every year from medical emergencies or non-communicable diseases in the Philippines. How many of them could have been saved, if they had professional medical response. The WHO calls it premature deaths. It means they could have had a chance if they had appropriate medical intervention on time. That would have meant 800 Filipino lives saved every day," he says.

"Ultimately, I want to be a driving force to reduce the number of deaths caused by medical emergencies and disasters. That's what I want to do, to be able to reduce that number. To me, that is the end goal," says Kapunan.

"The stress of dealing with employee emergency is now transferred to us, because the expertise is definitely with us, as compared to HR department. Our goal is to support businesses in terms of employee safety, especially during life-threatening situations. Secondly, the service expands to families. An employee distraught because of a family emergency will not be productive. It is cheap enough for an employee to shoulder the family coverage," he says.

Kapunan developed the idea for Pilipinas911 in 2009, when tropical storm Ondoy ravaged Metro Manila. "My business in the past was more of security. We installed tracking devices or GPS on delivery trucks, so that the owners can monitor them and report to police if the vehicles are stolen or hjjacked. That company was called CityWatch. But I decided to go into a life-saving business, when Ondoy struck in 2009. I had eight employees at CityWatch who almost died in Marikina, Antipolo, Cainta. That's when I realized, there was no 911 service, no one you could call, and there was no professional emergency response," he says.

He presented the idea to the Department of Health to verify if the agency had no objection to the use of 911 standards. Once permitted, Kapunan bought the same software used by US 911. "When I started this company, I wrote to US 911. I said I am not government. I am a private company. To be able to use the software, you have to buy it and you have to be accredited. That's what I did. We were accredited by the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch. We went through that certification," he says.

Kapunan also bought three private ambulances, but he also talked to all ambulance providers to become Pilipinas911 partners. "I teamed up with ambulance providers, and I will pay them when we need their service. That's how the network grew. In islands such as Boracay, where there is no ambulance, we know the numbers of the Red Cross, who helped in a recent heat stroke incident. That's how important our database is. We know who to call," he says.

Kapunan says Pilipinas911 provides a single number to call, in emergency cases such as police-related incidents, fire, accidents or medical situation. "There are 7,000 emergency numbers in the Philippines. That is just too many numbers on fire, police, ambulance. If you are the HR director of a company, and you receive a call from an employee deployed to another city, who will you call? That's the first thing I address. We have a database of 7,000 numbers and we even included the contact numbers of volunteer groups," he says.

What makes Pilipinas911 unique is its use of ID number, which eliminates prank calls. "About 96 percent of emergency calls to the police are prank calls. This is not limited to the Philippines. In Malaysia, about 90 percent are prank calls and in the US, about 60 percent of all calls should have not been accepted by 911," he says.

Kapunan says with Pilipinas911, the first thing the caller provides is the ID number. "Once they give the ID number, we immediately establish that they are cardholders. So, we have zero prank calls," he says.

Pilipinas911's first customers are multinational companies such as Unilever and Johnson and Johnson, which were also clients served by Kapunan's former GPS business. "We came out with a family package that through the company, employees could also cover their family members, either through salary deduction or direct payment. A company would pay me P800 a year for every employee, including private ambulance dispatch. Our family package costs P1,800 for five cards," he says.

On how the companies view Pilipinas911's performance, Kapunan says he has a simple way of confirmation. "If clients renew and stay in, that's how I assess our performance. So far, all our clients from the start are still with us. They renewed the subscription every year. That is my best indicator if they are satisfied," he says.

Pilipinas911 now has an organic team of 12 professionals and another 14 part-time employees. "Right now, I have six internationally certified staff," he says.

Kapunan says his target is to have 100,000 cardholders this year, a number that is possible if 20 large companies get on board.

Kapunan also volunteers as a medical emergency technician at local government units. He himself administered CPR on six victims, mostly from traffic accidents. On why he still does volunteer work, Kapunan says he wants to help even those who are not Pilipinas911 cardholders. "That's the only way I can help them," he says.

His team also operates in disaster zones, not as a part of the business, but simply to help. Pilipinas911 team was often among the first at ground zero, where major disasters struck such as in Tacloban City, just a few days after typhoon Yolanda hit central Philippines. International organizations recognized Kapunan's team for coordinating disaster response in the badly damaged city.

He also deployed a medical emergency team for major public events such as the Black Nazarene procession and papal visit.

"By operating in disaster zones, we can provide companies proper advice. I also partner with the government, the police and the military such as the Air Force to have access to disaster zones. Then, I have a way to help them," he says.

"To the government, as we grow, we are able to augment their capabilities by rendering free services especially during disasters. Aside from helping the marginalized sector, we provide training. We learn so much from operating in disaster zones and we are able to bring it to day-to-day emergency in terms of skills set," he says.

Kapunan says his team is trained to be where it is needed. "For me, it is about embracing it. We have a mantra in life saving. It is called the greatest good for the greatest number. We simply cannot save all, but you can definitely save more if you have the skills, the equipment, the manpower, the network. We try to train as many as possible. With companies, I also do disaster response training. At least I know I have given them something to work with," he says.

Kapunan was invited to speak at the 911 Conference in Washington D.C. on April 29. He says he will discuss the future of emergency services and his company's plan to develop a new mobile app on emergency response and use drones to deliver emergency equipment and medicines to remote areas.

"From the very beginning, no doubt I wanted it to be really big financially. Of course, we are making money, but a big chunk of it goes to free training. That's the characteristics of Pilipinas911. I want it to be big so I can have a bigger impact. And that biggest impact, I will measure by the number of deaths we are preventing," says Kapunan.

Source: The Standard

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