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Budget shortfall leaves lawmakers scrambling for funds

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Sept. 21, 20090) - Suggestions were made in the Senate on Thursday for possible funding sources for the off-island medical referral program with 45 patients awaiting off-island treatment.

Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson said the problem with the referral program raised Wednesday by Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli is a serious health issue and the Fono should try to identify a solution as soon as possible.

He said the Fono should make recommendations to the Governor to take action now and if it’s difficult to find a funding source, he suggested the use of the $3 million allocated to the Fono from the $20 million loan proceeds.

Sen. Velega Savali Jr. suggested using part of the $1 million allocated to each district from the loan proceeds as another funding source and urged quick resolution to this critical problem. He said these are the types of funding sources the government can tap into, to address this situation.

Galeai said there are certain provisions in the budget which the Fono can review and look at reallocating to fund the referral program, which is desperately needed by the hospital.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, LBJ chief executive officer Patricia Tindall confirmed there are currently 45 patients on the list for off-island referral.

Tindall says the hospital proposed $5.5 million in the FY2010 budget for the referral program, which was submitted to the ASG Budget Office along with the rest of the LBJ budget for the new fiscal year.

"Unfortunately for the hospital, the only thing the territory can afford for the hospital in the new fiscal year is $30 million for the entire LBJ budget, while our entire budget proposal was $39 million," said Tindall in a telephone interview from her home, where she was ill with the flu.

"With a budget ceiling of $30 million, we had to rework our budget and reduce it down, resulting in the elimination of the referral program funding in order for us to meet the Budget Office ceiling," she said. "We did submit a supplemental appropriation for FY2010 to the Budget Office but we don’t know what will happen. We understand the financial constraints faced by American Samoa."

The referral program remains open at this point, but only to provide information with off-island health care providers for local residents who can afford to pay for off-island care, she said.

"The board of directors have required us to continue to keep the program open for referral information and every month we are required to provide to the board a list of patients waiting for off-island treatment," she said. "A copy of the list is also sent to the governor."

Tindall said the referral committee, which is made up of LBJ physicians, continues to meet to review these requests. She also said the list, which is provided to the committee as well as the board, does not outline the names of the patients.

"For confidentially purposes, the list includes just the age, gender and medical services needed," she explained.

Tindall said LBJ was able to send child patients for off-island treatment through the Shriners’, Akamai and other foundation programs for children.

"We are very thankful to these foundations for providing this help for us and we continue to seek out foundation help for our patients," she said, noting that some adult patients were able to seek medical treatment off-island because they have insurance. According to the CEO about 27 patients funded themselves for off-island medical treatment.

Tindall also said the Governor asked LBJ two years ago what the hospital is doing to help with providing locally the necessary medical care so patients are not sent off-island.

"We have been working on this issue with certain physicians in specialized fields and they have come here to work with us," she said. "And we continue to seek out these physicians to come to American Samoa."

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