Fire in cafeteria, 'waterfalls' in elevators, snakes in the ceiling: GMH won't survive another storm
Updated: Oct 2
Nurse says GMH needs qualified people to run the hospital
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Guam Memorial Hospital will not withstand another storm, according to a nurse at the public hospital, who described in graphic detail the sorry condition of the aging medical facility, which she said was hit by multiple fires and massive floodings during the storm in May.
“The state of the hospital is far from good,” said Isabel Flores, a certified critical care nurse at GMH, debunking claims by GMH officials.
The hospital’s ceiling is home to snakes. “That’s just unacceptable," she said.
Flores dropped the bomb on Thursday during the oversight hearing that confirmed muffled whispers about the hospital’s worsening predicament.
The nurse said she was “struggling to understand” why GMH was “worse off than ever before” despite millions in Covid-19 funds poured by the federal government into the facility.
“Where did all this Covid money go?” she asked.
Flores said the government needed to rethink the appointment of leaders to manage the hospital. GMH administrators and board members "cannot be politically appointed positions,” she said.
Currently, she noted that politically appointed GMH administrators pay their loyalty to the political party at the expense of the patients’ wellbeing.
"I know it's been that way, but where did it take us?" she said. "GMH must be depoliticized and anyone who is against this idea is against the wellbeing of our people and against improving our island."
For decades, GMH has been the government's albatross, despite several attempts to resolve its recurring issues.
Speaker Therese Terlaje noted that in 2020 and 2021, the legislature appropriated $10 million for GMH’s capital improvement projects but the appropriations had never been used.
“GMH is facing very serious issues, some of them long-standing, some of them new. While it was clear from their presentation that everyone was working hard and GMH was making progress in some areas, including billing, there were not enough solutions to solve the scale of the problems facing GMH today,” Terlaje said after the hearing,
“It was also clear that money was still available to GMH but was not necessarily the sole solution. I adjourned the hearing after consultation with my colleagues and I am looking to the hospital administration, the governor, and the lieutenant governor, to re-evaluate the situation which looks to be a crisis at this point and to propose new solutions as soon as possible. The legislature will work together to implement any statutory changes necessary,” she added.
In 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended the replacement of the aging GMH, noting that it would be costlier to fix it than to build a new one.
Flores said GMH “did not handle the typhoon well during the storm.”
The hospital’s "stairwells and elevators turned into waterfalls, the ceilings and walls caved in and the shutters were banging," she told the legislators.
She also disclosed that multiple electrical fires hit the mother-and-baby unit and the cafeteria.
“It’s common knowledge that water and electricity do not mix well," she said. "That was made obvious when we had to evacuate the OB ward because there’s so much smoke coming out of the outlets due to the electrical fires."
During the storm, she said, "an unfamiliar overhead page was announced," calling on "any available staff" to report immediately to the generator room because the lift gate and the generator "almost blew in."
“The heroes of the night— and I want to emphasize that they are true heroes— were the maintenance facility men who literally held the building together with their own hands in two by force. You know how disastrous it would have been if the generator blew," she said.
Most recently, Flores said, a snake was found in the ceiling of the infection control office.
In terms of supply, Flores said GMH constantly lacks essential materials such as linens, pillows, diabetic tube feeding formula, wipes to clean the patients and syringes, among other things.
“The GMH needs a system change because the existing system is not working,” she said.
Willian Eric Lee, a part-time nurse at GMH, backed Flores’ testimony.
“Back in 2020, we wore masks to protect ourselves from Covid. Now we protect ourselves from the mold and spores.”
The mold at GMH, he said, puts immunocompromised patients as well as the staff at stake.
“Unfortunately, ours is substandard care,” Lee said. "It's substandard when you have to borrow wipes. Somebody brings wipes, donates wipes, to you. We tell our patients we use tissue paper because we don't have wipes. It’s embarrassing.”
Terlaje expressed frustrations over the hospital’s endlessly unresolved problems.
“We focused on roof repairs, elevators, the new EHR and HVAC repairs but every year when you come in you give us this story— this is going to be done, this is our plan for this— but now those aren’t even done,” she said.