Navy offers no-cost lease for hospital
Updated: Apr 14
By Frank Whitman
If Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero signs the lease for Eagles Field that was drawn up by the U.S. Navy within 30 days of March 15, the government of Guam will pay nothing to lease the 112-acre lot on which GovGuam is to build a world-class hospital and medical campus.
If she does not sign the 50-year lease, the Navy will keep the land and use it for some other military purpose, Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas, said in a letter dated March 15 that accompanied the unsigned lease when it was sent to Leon Guerrero.
March 15 marked the end of a required two-week period since the Navy notified Congress it intended to enter into the lease with the government of Guam. Once Guam officials sign the lease, Navy representatives will sign, thus putting it into effect, Nicholson said.
Nicholson met with Pacific Island Times and other Guam media outlets March 16 to explain the lease, the process that led to it, and the ways it is likely to benefit Guam, the Navy and the region. The lease had generated controversy as some felt the negotiations that produced it were not transparent.
According to Nicholson, Leon Guerrero requested land for a new hospital at about the same time the Navy was facing the inadequacy of its own 42-bed hospital and other health services in Guam.
“We looked at the governor’s request for an area to put a new hospital, and we looked at the growing military population here,” Nicholson said. “We looked at the lack of specialty care within the DoD system here. We looked at the lack of subspecialty care within the civilian system here. We looked at the inability of the lab system here to process many lab requests here. We got together and said, ‘What’s the best way to do this?’”
He noted that every year, 4,000 service members or their family members are referred from DoD medical facilities to local civilian medical facilities for care not available at the naval hospital or other military clinics. Such care is paid for by the Tricare federal health care plan to the providers.
Officials decided the problems could be addressed by leasing the land for the hospital to GovGuam with requirements for certain specialty items, which they did.
Items to be required under the lease are:
• A hyperbaric recompression chamber for the treatment of diving-related injuries and other patients requiring hyperbaric oxygen treatment;
• Inpatient rehabilitation capability with services to include inpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy;
• Inpatient hemodialysis capability;
• Pediatric intensive care unit;
• Interventional radiology facility for cardiac catheterization;
• The ability to receive casualties in a mass casualty scenario - either permanently set up for that or reconfigurable; and,
• A heat-resistant landing pad able to accommodate tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.
“We put these things into the lease and said, ‘OK GovGuam, we agree to lease you this plot of land if you put these things into the hospital design,’” Nicholson said. “If you do that, the cost of the lease is zero. You don’t have to pay us because you have provided in-kind services.”
Financing the construction of the hospital is the responsibility of GovGuam, Nicholson said. GovGuam could, if it chooses, request grants or other funding for that purpose, but such a request has not been made at this time. “We’re not involved in that,” he said.
Key to the military’s plans for Guam is the coming installation of a missile defense system to counteract the perceived growing threat to the island from Chinese or North Korean missiles. The defense system requires multiple sites around Guam including one to be sited on the same Eagles Field lot as the hospital.
Nicholson noted that in 2021 engineers from the Missile Defense Agency made officials aware that the missile defense system would require multiple sites as opposed to just one, and that Eagles Field was a desirable location for a site. The defense system design has been adjusted to be compatible with the hospital.
The Navy had been returning DoD land it determined it no longer needed to the local government under the “net-negative” commitment it made in 2011 as preparations for the Marine relocation were getting underway. Since then, the Navy has returned 300 acres, which actually fulfills the net-negative commitment for DoD to occupy less land at the end of the buildup than it did in 2011, Nicholson said.
The net-negative commitment was made before China was considered a threat. The absence of a perceived threat was also the reason for the decision to replace the Navy’s 500-bed hospital, (constructed in 1954) with the much smaller current Naval Hospital Guam which opened in 2014.
Those site requirements have prompted a halt to the return of land that had been considered excess, including Eagles Field and land for a Guam Power Authority solar panel array that was to be installed at South Finegayan.
“With the exception of any parcels of land that are already in the transfer process that has started the formal transfer, there’s no more excess land,” Nicholson said. “The next report that we put out as required by the (National Defense Authorization Act) that lists the disposition of all DoD lands on Guam will show that none of the stuff left is excess.”
About 27 percent of Guam is in the DoD land inventory, he said. Of that land, 95 percent is built on, planned for, or undevelopable. About 20 percent of the DoD land is set aside for environmental purposes and therefore is considered undevelopable.
“There’s only about 5 percent of the DoD land left that’s developable and it’s not contiguous,” he said. “So, when we talk about what’s left, we are being extremely judicious because anything extra that wants to come here or that we need to put here, we don’t actually have much area that we could put it in.”
The construction of the hospital has been a signature project of the Leon Guerrero administration since she assumed office in 2018. The inadequacy of the poorly maintained public civilian hospital, Guam Memorial Hospital, is not disputed. However, the expense and location of the Eagles Field hospital replacement project is the subject of some controversy.
Those opposed to the Eagles Field project have said the site is not in a convenient location, lacks adequate infrastructure and is too far from the numerous clinics and other health care providers located in Tamuning, near GMH. They also question whether GovGuam can afford to pay for the “world-class” hospital and medical campus, and suggest the replacement be more austere.