- By Dr. Vince Akimoto
Payroll politics fatal to healthcare
Last winter, a historically severe flu season killed 80,000 Americans including 183 children. Nationwide, hospitals were overwhelmed and critical medical supplies were depleted by life-threatening diseases caused by a mutant influenza virus.
Recently, doctors diagnosed the first American flu fatalities of this year. A previously healthy Florida child was killed by an Influenza B virus infection just three weeks ago. Last week, a Michigan school district shut down as a precautionary measure due to a “horrible outbreak of flu” among students and staff.
Simultaneously in New Jersey, an adenovirus outbreak last week mysteriously killed nine children and left many others sick. Adenoviruses frequently cause the common cold with a cough and a runny nose. But some adenovirus can cause pinkeye, diarrhea, pneumonia, or meningitis.
A hundred years ago, the 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans. That outbreak infected 500 million people and experts fear a planetary event like this may occur again soon. Here, on Guam, island doctors are treating more and more influenza and adenovirus infections but no reported fatal illness yet.
While island doctors hope for the best, they must plan for the worst. In this effort, local health experts have been repeatedly betrayed by dishonorable government leaders. Rather than a viral pandemic, what may kill us this year is GovGuam payroll politics.
Throughout this vitriolic election season, Guam Memorial Hospital remains unaccredited due to long-standing safety violations which threaten the lives of patients and hospital staff. Life-saving medical equipment remain unmaintained and underutilized, electrical panels remain outdated and dangerous, and nursing staff remain underpaid. Most foolishly, in the face of impending national shortages of medical supplies, GMH continues to owe millions of dollars to critical off-island pharmaceutical vendors.
Despite the pleadings of national and local healthcare advocates, Guam’s pandering politicians continue to put political patronage and the salaries of unnecessary employees before the safety of sick children in the hospital. Notwithstanding all its fiscal challenges, GMH expects to collect a whopping $97 million in patient revenue but foolishly plans to spend a record $140 million on unmandated employee expenses.
In a nauseating display of malfeasance, GovGuam officials have enacted a 2019 fiscal budget which cuts more than $25 million to public education and law enforcement services while failing to fully fund capital improvement projects and operational shortfalls at GMH. Somehow, this year’s idiotic $956 million GovGuam budget manages to spend $250 million more than last year, increase local taxpayer burden, and promise less government services.
Our cowardly elected officials failed to prevent the passage of this chicken-hearted government budget that burdens the working people of Guam with $78 million in new local taxes including a ridiculous 5 percent gross receipts tax just for the privilege of doing business on Guam. Instead of celebrating federal tax reductions, our corrupt local politicians selfishly think it more important to raise taxes on food and medicine rather than cut wasteful government expenses or to eliminate sweetheart deals for the political elite. Meanwhile hotels, health insurance companies, banks, and the special friends of the government don't pay any GRT taxes at all.
Speaking of special friends, our elected leaders just gave $13.9 million for annual cost of living allowances for GovGuam retirees. In addition, the Guam Visitor's Bureau continues to horde $44 million in Tourist Attraction Fund tax revenue to spend on media-savvy parties for themselves. Those monies could have helped GMH, Simon Sanchez High School, or off-set the Trump tax reductions.
Let’s be fair, why don’t private sector retirees get GovGuam COLA checks too? Are the old people who retired from honest island jobs not all the same in the eyes of our politicians? Do they not also bleed? Do they not also starve and get sick? Why does GVB hold parties, while GMH bleeds? GovGuam's penchant for caring only for itself will one day be its ruin.
With tragic certainty, GMH will run out of essential hospital supplies again this Christmas while nonessential hospital staff take their leisurely holiday vacations. If there is justice in the universe, our narcissistic, hoggish political leaders and their misguided minions will be held culpable if any GMH patient dies from a preventable hospital error.
According to the Department of Labor, the average salary of the current 11,000 GovGuam employees is about $50,000 annually. This is almost certainly more annual salary than the majority of the 55,000 voters who participated in last month’s election. Foolish politicians who think votes could be bought with GMH blood money deserved political homicide.
Dr. Vince Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.