Yap's newly named health director quits after being forced to fire hospital staff
By Joyce McClure
Aileen Tareg has resigned as acting director of the Yap State Department of Health Services after being forced to fire clinical staff at Yap State Hospital who were involved in a recent walkout.
“I thought we had a breakthrough when our staff who stopped coming to work came back last Monday,” Tareg stated in an April 18 staff memo announcing her resignation after two weeks on the job.
“Unfortunately, a decision at a higher level was made to have those staff terminated effective today,” she said.
Tareg was appointed to the department amid the ongoing emergency prompted by the resignation of 39 doctors, nurses and healthcare workers.
She replaced Dominic Taruwemain, whose “designation as acting director” ended on April 6, according to Yap Gov. Jesse Salalu.
“We who know best how our department should be run are unfortunately trumped by emotional and impulsive rationale,” she wrote in the memo.
“I felt I have done all that I could do for this situation and before I am made to sign termination letters that I never agreed with, I am stepping down before today’s end.”
Tareg raised a suspicion that the decision to fire the hospital staff was predetermined.
“I apologize to our staff for the situation we are in as some of us were unable to turn the tide that was probably already in motion before the decision was made known,” she said.
A group of 47 medical professionals wrote to Taruwemain on March 2, requesting a meeting “with your good office” to discuss current Yap hospital medical staff salaries and benefits.
The letter, which was forwarded to Gov. Jesse Salalu and Speaker Vincent Figir, ended by stating that the signatories would “go on an infinite strike” beginning March 26 “in the event of an impasse.”
Salalu said the letter on Yap Medical Association letterhead was unsigned, deeming the 47 signatures a “petition” rather than a signed letter as intended, and focused on the threat of a strike.
State officials said a strike is illegal according to the state constitution.
Salalu issued an emergency declaration on March 31 and obtained support from FSM President David Panuelo who also issued a national emergency declaration on April 5 pledging assistance.
Salalu’s team drew up a plan of action to enlist medical professionals from the other states to travel to Yap and fill the void temporarily. The budget came in at $241,000, half of which was for air transportation.
Chief Thomas Falngin, chairman of the Council of Pilung, wrote to Salalu on April 5 to offer assistance with the Department of Health Services critical staffing shortage issue.
“While the medical profession may not be viewed as an area under the realm of ‘customs and traditions’ the health of our people is nevertheless the concern of all sectors of the state, and indeed a major concern for both councils of traditional chiefs,” the letter states.
“We cannot pretend that we have the solution to this shortage in medical staff, but if we are aware of the staff participating in the strike, we may be able to reason with them as family, village, municipal, or community members. We can promise no resolve, but we can try this avenue if you think it will help.”
“However, if hearing of grievances is an incidental issue to this strike problem, we are more than willing to lend an ear, so to speak. We may even be willing to lobby with legislature any party’s request if their concerns are justified and customarily traditionally appropriate.
In response, Salalu sent a letter to the COP on April 14 assuring the council that his administration is exploring ways to address the situation.
“My cabinet and I truly believe and support your point of view that it is a grave disservice to the patients and their family members that the state government ceases to provide health care and services as constitutionally guaranteed due to un-resolved compensation issues to certain employees, namely the doctors and nurses as the root of the problem,” Salau said.
“I am even planning to bring this matter to our next leadership meeting, so we, as leaders, for our state can collectively arrive at [a] solution to avoid this kind of unwarranted problem in the future,” Salalu said.
Tareg is the former director of DHS, having been asked to resign by former Gov. Henry Falan and then-Lt. Gov. Jesse Salalu “for unclear reasons” according to a staff memo she issued on Aug. 27, 2021. Her resignation, effective Sept. 1, she said, “is not how I would have liked to end my term, but I accept the decision made by our executive administrators.”
Falan had decided to replace Tareg with Dr. James Yaingelou as acting director with the understanding that he would become the director upon approval by the legislature.
However, by the time he arrived in Yap, Falan had been impeached and Yaingelou was pushed aside by the legislature within a couple of months of his arrival.
Yaingelou is being blamed for the uprising among the staff but denied the accusation that he was the leader of the group during an interview with this reporter. It was a collaborative action, he insisted.