Sen. Therese Terlaje said she expects full transparency from the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services as she advises the newly confirmed director, Arthur San Agustin, to retire the use of “furlough threat” as an attempt to influence a fiscal policy.
“I expect the director to serve the people of Guam first and foremost, that he is direct and completely forthright with the community he serves, and to remove any impediment that keeps information from the public,” said Terlaje, chair of the legislative health committee.
Guam senators on Monday confirmed the appointment of San Agustin as head of the health department, succeeding Linda Unpingco-DeNorcey who retired in July at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While recognizing the many challenges presented to the new director, Terlaje said she expects public health policy decisions to be made without any political interference.
“I expect denunciation of scare tactics or the threatening of furloughs of public health staff in the middle of the biggest public health emergency our island has seen and I expect policy to be driven by data and by an unwavering allegiance to saving lives,” Terlaje said.
The senator noted that the mantle of responsibility fell on San Agustin amid the worst public health crisis besetting the island.
“I felt it was important to contemplate the gravity and responsibility of this position during this particular time when our island is facing a health pandemic and is struggling to control a virus that has taken many lives over the last nine months, that has shut many businesses down and put more than 30,000 people out of work, that has kept many of us isolated and limited from spending precious in-person time with our family and close friends, and that has completely overwhelmed our health care system,” Terlaje said.
Terlaje noted that carrying out the burden of leading Guam out of this pandemic comes with the full unprecedented health emergency authority which also entails the management of millions of dollars of procurement and federal funds, and tremendous pressure from the administration, hospitals, health care companies, lawyers, doctors, business owners, the legislature and the entire community.
Terlaje said the health director’s appointment should come with needed resources for DPHSS. She said the department should not be made the scapegoat “when it is everyone’s responsibility to improve our situation, and that that the advisory groups and the private sector truly work with them to implement a clear exit strategy that has been communicated effectively to the public.”
San Agustin declared his willingness to take on the leadership responsibilities over the department and his intentions to work towards the improvement of the well-being of the island during his confirmation hearing. He has been in public service for 32 years.