Low Wages Makes It Difficult To Recruit Medical Professionals To American Samoa

Hospital CEO informs U.S. congressional panel about challenged faced in territory

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Aug. 1, 2017) – LBJ Medical Center’s Chief Executive Officer, Taufete’e John Faumuina told a US congressional panel that the low salary level in American Samoa is making it difficult to fill vacant positions for medical professionals at the hospital.

This view is also cited by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, in his official prepared statement submitted for last week’s US House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs hearing, assessing the current conditions and challenges at LBJ.

Since taking over as CEO of the LBJ, more than two years ago, Taufetee has reiterated to the Fono that the challenge faced by the hospital in recruiting qualified medical professionals — especially US certified medical doctors — is the low salary level offered here.

During last week’s congressional hearing Taufete’e provided details on the specific areas at LBJ where there is a shortage of medical professionals. For example, the hospital is required to have 110 registered nurses, but they only have 73, and 11 pharmacists is required, but LBJ has only 3.

Subcommittee chairman US Rep. Doug LaMalfa, pointedly asked Taufete’e what he has a solution to the difficulties faced by LBJ is recruiting medical professionals, as cited by the LBJ CEO.

“You’ve had a real challenge with staffing. So how would you get the staffing level up with the current facility, let alone a newer, larger facility?” LaMalfa asked. “What’s the magic, the silver bullet of getting that done? What do you see as a way to accomplish that?”

Taufete’e’s responded that the staffing problem is because “we do not have the [financial] resources to recruit them,” and noted that the staffing numbers the hospital has on hand are due to the CMS (Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services) patient care assessments, and “they discover that there are times that we do not have physicians” and registered nursing staff “to tend to the needs of the patients.”

“How far do you have to cast the net for recruiting?” LaMalfa asked. Taufete’e responded, “We recruit from everywhere. We go as far as the Philippines, Fiji, and the Pacific.”

“We try to recruit from the United States … They are interested in coming to the Pacific, but at the end of the day, the salary issue prohibits them from making a decision,” Taufete’e said, but didn’t elaborate on the salary nor did any congressional member ask for details.

In his official written statement to the subcommittee, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga pointed out that building a new hospital, a proposed project being pursued by the local government, is just one element of “our overall healthcare delivery system improvement plan.”

“Simultaneous investments must be made to develop the competence of our physician and nursing corps workforce,” he added. “The significant disparity in physician and nursing salaries compared to the national standards frustrates efforts to recruit US Board Certified Physicians and Registered Nurses."

The subcommittee was told that the bulk of the LBJ hospital physician corps is composed of Fiji Medical School graduates, and clinicians from Asia and Europe.

“In order to attract US Board Certified Medical Doctors, salaries must be on par with stateside compensation. Regrettably, insufficient revenues preclude successful implementation of this goal.

“We are a small island, small population, remote, and the cost of access to any service is extremely high because of the high cost of transportation and communications,” he said.

“This is particularly true with health care. No health insurance provider wants to serve American Samoa because we are a high risk, high poverty, and low volume population,” Lolo continued.

The governor explained that Medicaid is the only health insurance provider for local residents and American Samoa has managed to operate a block grant program for the past 35 years that also serves as the single payer of our healthcare system.

He then revealed that “we are close to providing universal healthcare coverage for our people under Medicaid, through our single government-run healthcare system.”

Samoa News will report in future editions on other issues pertaining to the hearing as well as the rest of the governor’s official written statement to the subcommittee. Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted nearly 90-minutes, was streamed live (4a.m. American Samoa time).

The Samoa News
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