Lawmakers Discuss Guam Hospital Concerns At Hearing

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Impacts of new private hospital on public facility uncertain

By Dance Aoki

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 13, 2014) – Guam Memorial Hospital (GMH) might have to cut jobs if it loses business when the Guam Regional Medical City (GRMC) opens later this year, hospital officials told lawmakers yesterday.

Hospital officials answered questions from senators during an oversight hearing at the Legislature about finances and improvements underway at the island's only civilian hospital.

Sen. Michael San Nicolas, D-Dededo, said lawmakers need to know how the new hospital will affect GMH before they pass the budget law later this year.

Each year taxpayers subsidize the public hospital, which doesn't collect enough revenue to operate independently.

"If we don't know the impact of the new hospital, that won't be included in the budget," San Nicolas said.

Hospital Administrator Joseph Verga said the impact is an unknown variable.

GMH officials expect the public hospital will to lose 25 to 30 percent of its business when the new hospital opens, but Verga said they can't predict whether that loss will be long-term or if patients will again start using GMH.

Hospital Chief Financial Offier Alan Ulrich said if the hospital starts collecting less money it will be unable to maintain current staffing levels.

"If we reduce the staffing level because of the loss to the new hospital, that means people are losing their jobs," San Nicolas said.

Concrete changes

Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, D-Dededo, asked hospital officials for a concrete plan of improvements and changes.

Rodriguez has expressed concern the hospital is moving in the wrong direction, collecting less money last fiscal year than it did the year before.

"Where is the improvement?" Rodriguez asked.

Many of the improvements, according to hospital officials, will come when the hospital outsources several functions to private vendors.

The hospital has released requests for proposals to run the cafeteria, hospital parking, and for a billing and collections service to help the hospital more effectively recover its costs.

However, some changes, such as a raise for emergency room doctors, haven't improved GMH's ability to recruit more doctors.

Dr. Larry Lizama, associate medical director, said the hospital lost two emergency room doctors because they hadn't received raises.

"But it's not all about money," Lizama said. "Practicing on an isolated island without specialty support is an issue."

In addition, there's a shortage of doctors across the nation, making recruiting difficult, he said.

With the information they've received that the new hospital is offering emergency room doctors salaries $100,000 more than they'd receive at GMH, Ulrich said GMH will have a very hard time retaining its staff.

Hay study

Ulrich said the governor's plan to increase government pay by revising the pay scale would cost the hospital $5.8 million more a year that it doesn't have.

Ulrich said that estimate is not based on an 80-hour pay period, but on the actual hours employee have been working, including extra pay for overtime, weekends and certification.

Verga said he'd heard money could be coming to the hospital from the Department of Administration to help it pay for the raises.

"But we haven't received word of any commitment," Verga said.

Troy Torres, governor's director of communications, said the administration is giving the agency the money. He noted that the salary increases are being phased in starting at a 50 percent level.

Torres said GMH's salary levels will increase by $115,000 per pay period.

Gaming tax

Hospital officials received some money from the administration yesterday about the cash it is supposed to be receiving from a new gambling tax.

Although the government started collecting the tax last summer, the hospital to date has received $123,000 -- a fraction of what was projected.

Verga told senators that the Department of Administration yesterday had another $195,000 in gambling taxes ready for the hospital.

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