Guam senators have passed two bills seeking to address the island's health care needs, while another piece of legislation has been introduced to address the backlog in Covid-19 case investigations.
Sen. Mary Camacho Torres and Speaker Tina Muña Barnes have introduced a measure to provide local funds as necessary to the Bureau of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services.
While the public health department has been working to improve contact tracing efforts, the agency remains significantly underfunded and overwhelmed, as repeatedly indicated at multiple oversight hearings.
To help address this issue, Bill 420-35 provides DPHSS funding support by appropriating $470,000 for its operations in Fiscal Year 2021, which may include, but not be limited to, the newly created Bureau of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The appropriation comes from funds remaining following the government of Guam’s full payment of the cost of living allowance this year.
While the legislature had appropriated $14,898,000 for COLA payments in the FY21 budget, Government of Guam Retirement Fund Director Paula Blas indicated that only $14,428,000 was expended to cover all retirees and COLA needs, leaving approximately half a million remaining in general fund appropriations.
During FY2021 budget deliberations, Torres introduced an amendment that appropriated an additional $1 million to DPHSS from the Healthy Futures Fund, restoring nearly half of the cuts to the agency.
“If we support a data-driven approach at public health, then we should be doing everything we can to make them whole,” Torres said. “Given that COLA has been fully paid, and we have been assured by the GGRF that additional needs have been covered, I ask my colleagues for their swift support in aiding DPHSS’ response efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Just like I did with Bill 400-35, I will continue to advocate for DPHSS and ensure that critical resources be provided to our front-liners,” Muña Barnes said. “We need to make sure the lead agency in our fight against Covid-19 be given the resources they need to keep us safe.”
On Monday, senators unanimously passed a bill that seeks to protects the ability to provide vaccinations at Guam schools.
Bill 2-35, introduced by Sen. Louise Borja Muña, would allow the Guam Department of Education to implement vaccinations at any of its school campuses.
Lack of transportation, conflicts with work schedules and other family obligations are just a few reasons parents give for not being able to get their children vaccinated. The school located vaccine program (SLV) is a popular means throughout the country to efficiently vaccinate school children.” Muna said.
The program can be used in conjunction with the vaccines for children program administered through the DPHSS or through partnerships with private clinics, pharmacies and non-profits.
The SLV program can be used to administer compulsory vaccines and the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine which is administered in series of three shots over several months. The HPV vaccine is effective against many strains of the virus can lean cancers in both young men and women but it must be given early and prior to exposure to the virus.
“Cancer prevention and treatment is the main focus of my agenda as your senator. It may have taken the majority of the term to get this through, but it was important to me that we protect our youth and our future,” Muna said.
The 35th Guam Legislature also passed Bill 165-35, which would codify the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force diabetes screening recommendations into public law.
“Diabetes and prediabetes affect more than half of the adult population on island. As with many chronic illnesses, diabetes can be reversed or prevented if caught early and a healthy lifestyle program is implemented. If caught too late, diabetes is the single largest cause of adult blindness, chronic infections that may lead to amputations, heart disease, hypertension and kidney disease.” said Muña, the bill's author.
"Guam could save millions in health insurance, Medicaid and MIP claims from this mostly treatable and preventable disease if those at risk are screened early," she added.