GUAM HOSPITAL VANDALISM PROBED

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By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, August 9) - The damage to a brand-new machine meant to help premature babies breathe, other acts of vandalism, death threats and other crimes have prompted Guam Memorial Hospital administrators to suspect that opposition to the move to privatize some hospital jobs has gotten dirty.

GMH Administrator Bill McMillan said the hospital would be beefing up its security in response to a series of crimes against the hospital and its employees in recent weeks.

McMillan said he suspects the crimes may have been instigated by people who are fighting against the hospital’s reorganization efforts, which would, among other things, outsource maintenance and security services.

McMillan and Gov. Felix Camacho have received death threats from people threatening to kill them if the outsourcing occurs, according to McMillan.

Meanwhile, the GMH privatization issue is scheduled to be debated at session in the Guam Legislature today, as senators face the decision whether to reorganize the hospital and provide subsidies to keep it out of the red.

Here are some of the crimes that have occurred at the hospital over the last several weeks, as reported by McMillan:

Robin Olmo, director of respiratory therapy at the hospital, said she was shocked when she heard the new neonatal respirator had been damaged.

The vandalism occurred immediately after several physicians, therapists and nurses had just completed three days of training on the new machine, which is used on premature babies in certain critical conditions.

At the time, the machine had been kept in an unlocked room, but since the vandalism it has been moved to a room that can be secured.

The oxygen tubes that go to the patient and another tube on the machine had been cut. Fortunately, the parts were easily replaced and in fact were in need of replacement after the training, Olmo said.

Nonetheless, she said she found it highly disturbing that someone would take the effort to try to decommission the machine.

"Everyone was shocked, especially because this is used for neonatal intensive care," she said. "The Volunteer Association had worked really hard so we could have it and I felt really bad when it was vandalized."

Respiration therapist Evelyn Andres said she was among the first people to find the machine after it was damaged.

"It was so depressing," she said. "We’d been so excited to use it -- we just finished training and everyone, even the nurses and the physicians, were so excited to have it."

She said she hadn't heard the suspicions that the crime had been related to the reorganization efforts.

"I could see it as a possibility because a lot of people have had the job for so long and now they (won’t) have one -- maybe they’re scared," she said.

However, Vincent Tajalle, chief of environmental services, which include housekeeping and laundry, said it doesn’t seem likely to him that the perpetrators would be people in those divisions.

He said most people affected have actually come to think the reorganization can benefit them, because as they are transferred to other divisions, they can receive pay increases and training in other fields.

"Most people are happy," he said, adding that only a few people on his staff remain against the outsourcing, but that's because they're afraid of the changes.

Instead, he said, maybe the vandalism has increased because security has been down recently as the hospital has not hired new security guards as others retire or quit, to make the outsourcing as simple as possible.

McMillan said the hospital will be beefing up its security to thwart further incidents. Better surveillance systems and checks on bags and IDs at the entries are among the stepped-up security measures.

"This is a very difficult building to secure because it has so many entrances," he said. "It was designed in a time when people didn’t have to worry about things like this."

Though hard evidence is lacking, McMillan said he believes some of the crimes might have been connected and done by some of those who oppose the reorganization.

"When we review the chain of vandalism and other things, it looks like it’s not a collection of isolated incidences, but a related series of events that started in June," McMillan said. "And it started right when we started getting really public about the reorganization."

McMillan said the hospital is taking steps to ensure that the transition would be as smooth as possible, including cross-training all the employees so they can stay with the hospital or other government agencies in other positions, and ensuring that if privatization happens, the employees will have first dibs on the new jobs.

However, he said, some of the people who would be affected by the reorganization still oppose the change and have advocated very strongly against it.

He said many of the crimes committed against the hospital in recent weeks have required access by someone who knows the hospital well.

McMillan said he believes some hospital employees may have been influenced by non-employees advocating against the changes.

"The people affected by the reorganization have outside representation, ... laypeople that are meeting with them and basically engaging in a disinformation campaign," he said.

"To resort to bomb threats and vandalism tells me that whoever’s doing this has no regard to patient care at all," he said.

August 10, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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