When I arrived on Guam in 1984 to work as a reporter for the now-defunct Guam Cable TV, one of the various issues I reported on was the sorry state of Guam Memorial Hospital. I did stories about the lack of equipment and accreditation, no air conditioning in parts of the hospital, and about GMH not paying its share of retirement contributions for its employees. In 2006, when I became news director for the Pacific News Center, we reported on those very same issues.
Fast forward to 2018: I now have a daughter who works at GMH. One day she tells me, “Mom, my coworker cannot retire because Retirement says GMH hasn’t paid its share of her retirement contribution.” Her coworker advised my daughter and the other nurses in their unit to call and check if GMH was paying its share of their retirement contributions. Nope.
That’s a 34-year span, gachongs. Thirty. Four. Years. Of same old, same old. So, we have to ask ourselves: What has been the constant throughout those 34 years? The answer: that GMH has been controlled by the governor’s office.
From 1995 to around 2000, a woman named Helen Ripple served as administrator. I remember her because she was one of the few people actually trained in hospital administration to ever run GMH. Something happened and she resigned. My guess is that she was asked to divert hospital money elsewhere and, being a professional, she objected. Eloy Hara was brought in for a short time after Ripple left. He resigned too, and then-Gov. Carl Gutierrez fired the members of the hospital board and appointed himself acting administrator sometime between 2000 and 2001. It was during this period that $300,000 was mysteriously funneled out of the hospital in the form of payments to Dr. Vivien Batoyan because of an alleged civil rights violation. Gutierrez claimed, during a civil lawsuit in 2009, that he knew nothing about these payments.
Some of the other people who have served at the revolving helm of GMH at one time or another are: Dr. Davina Lujan, Gil Shinohara, Dr. Larry Lizama, Joseph Verga, Rey Vega, Ted Lewis, and of course Peter John Camacho, who seems to get called in whenever someone else resigns or gets fired from the job.
Lewis, another of the few names in the above list with any hospital administration experience, attempted to run GMH from May 2015 for about nine months, after the abrupt resignation of Verga. He was able to successfully restore GMH’s accreditation, which has since been lost. Again. Lewis blew the whistle on the inner workings between GMH and the Calvo administration recently in an article in the Pacific Island Times, outlining an orchestrated effort to oust him that was preceded by the mass resignation of hospital board officials, presumably because they were supportive of his efforts to address “obscene under coding, low billing and irresponsible collection practices at GMH.”
Hospital administration is a specific skill set. It is actually a program of study at some universities. Thanks to Lewis and several other whistleblowers, it is becoming clear why the few trained hospital professionals hired at GMH over the years haven’t lasted very long.
It’s because when they discover questionable financial practices that may benefit certain companies or persons, but clearly do not benefit the hospital or us taxpayers, they are given the axe. Or in Lewis’ case, maligned to the point of a ruined career.
Make no mistake, folks. This is all about money. And it has been for decades. The fact that current administrator Peter John Camacho and Drs. Lizama and Vince Duenas, two physicians whose names have surfaced in various administrative capacities at GMH over the past several decades, rushed to legislative oversight hearings to deny the whistleblower charges, tells me that those charges may have struck dangerously close to the truth.
Maybe the hospital board, which supposedly hires the administrator, should be elected. Maybe an entity with no ties to island insurance companies or clinics should perform the search for an administrator. Because clearly, allowing the governor’s office to control the hospital, as has been happening for decades, is not working.
It’s time to take our public hospital out of the hands of Adelup.
Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org