Dead man walking
Just breathe... the American president says this country is at war with the virus.
Historic wartime measures, including a worldwide travel ban, have crushed the economy and have ostensibly put more lives in danger. In the face of an invisible enemy, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that empowers the federal government to exert control over the private sector to meet national defense needs and ensure that emergency medical supplies get to where they are most needed, regardless of the business plans of the companies involved.
Over the past four months, the global vibrations of human activity oscillated more slowly and the Earth moved differently while humanity pondered the coronavirus. The virus has brought Guam to its knees, stranded America’s mightiest aircraft carrier on our shores, and forced the world’s churches to shutter their doors.
We are in lockdown. Many businesses are still closed and may never open again. Many emotionally devastated small business workers have lost their jobs. Too many people are now relying on the government of Guam to do the right things.
On the border between Barrigada and Mongmong, a 92-year old woman prays faithfully that the virus will not take her life and she is spared. Guam Public Health contact tracers diligently monitored her health and that of her community to ensure strict containment of the disease.
From the hills of Talafofo, the large affectionate family of a 105-year old retired teacher yearns to be by her bedside in her final days. The Guam Memorial Hospital nursing staff make helpful accommodations while still maintaining infection control. She dies peacefully of non-Covid19 disease and her family is grateful to the hospital staff who gracefully made heroic efforts to ensure that the oldest woman on Guam did not die lonely or alone.
The virus demands change. Social distancing, face masks and contact tracing are the new normal. In the face of the pandemic, political denial and dysfunction in the White House and in the Centers for Disease Control have led to unhelpful systemic failures which have caused unnecessary American death and suffering.
All across the United States, people got sick and died. In too many cities, the most expensive healthcare system in the world was overwhelmed. Schools closed, the stock markets collapsed, and companies went bankrupt. The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars on corporate bailouts and humanitarian aid, potentially bankrupting the future of America.
The Covid-19 pandemic has many dark sides. But just maybe, the virus has forced some of us to speak more sweetly and love more deeply. As our leaders in Washington D.C. have proven, government incompetence is not sustainable in the face of an existential threat. During a pandemic such as this one, bottom-up accountability approaches are essential in ensuring basic service delivery and reasonable outcomes. In the face of the virus, GovGuam corruption, nepotism and malfeasance must be replaced by a new normal.
GovGuam corruption has had many dark sides. It is embodied in the stubbornly bloated, plethoric local government payroll filled with non-essential employees. During the recent government budget hearings, no successful legislation for government payroll reductions or taxpayer relief was seen. To the shame of current Guam leaders, GovGuam's corruption is operationally manifested by the continuous public safety, education, and community health service shortfalls excused tiredly by a bankrupt local government treasury.
On the eve of a billion-dollar government of Guam election, we again bear witness to GovGuam's failure to fix the medical nightmare that is the physical environment of Simon Sanchez High School. As violent crime runs rampant in our village streets, public safety officers in squad cars and in the jails pay the ultimate price for GovGuam's failure to timely fund a strong justice system.
And there is the doomed Guam Memorial Hospital which its administrator acknowledged was broken beyond reasonable repair. Despite serving valiantly as our island's coronavirus hospital, the current hospital leadership appears committed to abandoning it and building a new hospital in the next five years. Until then, Guam's sick children will have to be happy with the crumbling concrete ceilings, leaky air-conditioning units, and chronic operational threats to patient welfare that Guam's senators and governor have thus far funded.
Throughout this vitriolic election season, the Guam Memorial Hospital remains unaccredited due to long-standing safety violations that threaten the lives of patients and hospital staff. Homicidal, decrepit, electrical panels remain outdated and dangerous; life-saving medical equipment remain unmaintained and underutilized; and nursing staff remain underpaid. Rather than a viral pandemic, what may kill us this year is GovGuam payroll politics.
GovGuam payroll politics is like the racist knee of an unapologetically old-school cop, who will forever be linked to the broken dead neck of a complicated deadbeat dad who couldn’t or wouldn’t follow law and order instructions. All lives matter and too many disenfranchised people are dead — not from the virus, but because of the lack of effective attention to the basic government functions of public safety, education and healthcare. GovGuam politicians cheat their own people by screaming "Me First!" when the poor private sector worker says, "I can't breathe..."
As typhoon people, we are taught to avoid conflict, especially with our leaders. In turn, our island leaders must be actively making things better for everyone, rich or poor. Otherwise, they could and should lose their mandate to lead. The social contract of inafa'maolek is that our leaders earn our respect by working selflessly for the common good.
The corrupt payroll politics of the old government of Guam is Dead Man Walking. The protracted and persistent loss of national hospital accreditation is damning testimony of GMH's underlying weakness and failure. Up until the emergence of Covid-19, hospital and government leaders have wrongly valued payroll politics more highly than safe patient care.
The government of Guam must downsize. Non-essential workers need to find real jobs that help Guam grow into a self-sufficient, non-welfare state. Reckless and nonproductive political excuses must stop. The democracy of pain and the paralysis-by-analysis strategies must cease. Vicious GovGuam taxes on food and medicine must be abolished.
Our island is at a crossroads — politically, economically and socially. The roads we choose to take will not only determine what kind of island we live in, but also what kind of community we will bequeath to our children. We must make certain that the roads we take are the right ones and devote ourselves to building the progressive, safe and prosperous community our children deserve.
Our virtue as a loving island society is being put to the test with this pandemic. To avoid financial ruin and societal demise, the culturally dissonant selfishness of recent Guam politicians must be replaced by a generosity of CHamoru spirit that puts service before self.
Hopefully, we can all become friends that a friend would like to have. Old allegiances must be broken. Old prejudices must come down. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally give forgiveness that we have been denying and live like we were dying.
Dr. Vince Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org