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A sordid tale of Guam's patronage politics

Updated: May 25

Yo Amti By Vincent Akimoto

Last week, another Guam Memorial Hospital budget rolled off the yet unpaid Xerox machine at the GMH business office. To the shock of no one, this ridiculous proposal projects a $75 million operational deficit and delivers no fiscal plan to regain hospital patient safety accreditation.

Faithful to a six-year legacy of shamefully unbalanced hospital budgets, this year’s edition features a record $232 million proposal mainly funding bloated personnel expenses. This morally bankrupt hospital spending plan accommodates over 200 nonessential employees including numerous obscenely overpaid special projects coordinators detailed from the Governor’s office.

Meanwhile, medical vendors and construction contractors are strung out and insulted with unpaid hospital invoices as GMH has already again run up a debt of more than $14 million. Air conditioners remain unelectrified, indoor waterfalls keep falling, and toxic black mold keeps killing innocent brown babies.

In other words, same old same old and its de ja vu all over again at the annual GMH purse strings hearings down at the Legislature. So, of course, our candy-ass senators are going to let this ludicrous hospital budget lapse into law. 

Just to be clear, this GMH financial plan is fiscally ridiculous and will more likely than not unnecessarily result in the death of innocent patients. Ignoring the earsplitting warnings of GMH nurses and doctors, GovGuam leaders give us GovGuam pay raises and tell us that everything will be ok. Your Governor and your Senators would like us to be patient and let them dictate the narrative.

Despite the recognized budget deficit, no senator will insist that nonessential employees be laterally transferred. No senator will be brave enough to stop allowing the hospital to be used as a political dumping ground. More than likely, no senator will dare to call for an end to patronage politics at GMH. Thus, due to the cowardice of the senators and the avarice of the governor of Guam, GMH will continue to lead the nation in infant mortality and dead mommas.

If Guam’s politicians were to get something right, they should at least do right by the kids. After all, the politicians always say that they’re all about supporting the youth, the schools, the future. GMH can wait but local politicians know that they got to take care of the school kids.

So, a couple of weeks ago, the politicians showed up at John F. Kennedy High School thinking they were going to school the children. Dressed in their best island-wear and shiny shoes, the bureaucrats were prepared to teach the teenagers the virtues of delayed gratification.

Long-suffering Simon Sanchez High School students and faculty were gathered like Israelites in the auditorium of their very temporary JFK home. An exodus of more than 13 years was recounted and a condescending admission of utter governmental failure was presented. Mock apologies delivered not very humbly only enraged an initially eager and polite audience that essentially was being told that they were going to be screwed for another three years.

All the adults from Adelup tried to make it seem that they had just discovered America and that Simon Sanchez High School was broken. What happened to the 99 percent solution announced two years ago just before the last gubernatorial election? Then Education Superintendent Francis Santos proudly boasted that the high school was ready to be rebuilt. Sen. Roy Quinata had promised he would fight to rebuild his school as his first priority. But when the epitaphs started flying, it was only the governor who was recorded as being vulgarly passionate and willing to fight. Punu hao, diablo!

Watching that stunningly bad-mannered civic display, I have now sadly come to finally appreciate the fact that healthcare on Guam is going to have to get better outside the dirty, filthy walls of GMH.

Optimistically, new elections this year will bring braver, less discourteous, more altruistic, and more mission-focused leadership to the island government. Until then, Guam is going to have to build better healthcare despite its current politicians.

Guam's healthcare has many wonderful parts, like fearless doctors and caring nurses. Guam has many successful students who are smart and hard at work off-island striving to attain their medical degrees.

Our community also has strong nurse education programs at the University of Guam and the Guam Community College. Furthermore, we have been very fortunate to attract medical professionals from off-island who have chosen to make Guam their home.

For island healthcare to be strong, we need good hospitals and great community clinics. But rather than a complicated, static and monolithic medical complex, Guam needs a hospital without walls that brings patients safely back home as quickly as possible. Home nursing, virtual medical visits, and effective, accessible primary healthcare in our villages will form Guam’s future.

Just like astronauts who see how beautiful Earth is from space, sometimes we need to look introspectively at what we have here on our island to really appreciate our blessings.

Many people who go to other places for medical care come back and realize how special Guam's healthcare system is, especially because of the caring community and personalized care they can get here.

We need to build our healthcare system to enhance the Pacific Island tradition of communal healing. Rather than institutionally separate sick people from their extended support network, Guam’s healthcare should be built to celebrate the strength of our families and friends.

Unfortunately, too many of our family and friends have left Guam over the past six years due to the toxic political environment created by self-serving, dishonorable local politicians. A diaspora of talented Guamanians have taken their talents elsewhere and when they speak of GovGuam, there is no love.

Because of our politicians' disgracefully selfish behavior, GMH and Public Health facilities remain maddeningly in a dangerous state of filth and disrepair. While more than 80 percent of GovGuam healthcare dollars are spent on too-often poorly-motivated, untrained personnel, our tax-paying citizens are served by too few nurses, social workers, psychologists, substance abuse specialists, physicians, and forensic pathologists.

Meanwhile, millions of federal recovery dollars sit incompetently in a bank somewhere waiting for a return flight back to Washington, DC. We have all been living this political nightmare for too long. You know the drill. If you don’t like what your government is doing, don’t complain. Vote.

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