A two-class system in Guam health care emerges

NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Guam Memorial Hospital staff had to use the stairs and longer pathways to get between floors while technicians were working to get at least one of the four broken elevators working again. Daily Post Staff

At one point on Wednesday afternoon, all four of Guam Memorial Hospital’s elevators broke down.

The hospital’s management also confirmed that one of the components of the electronic health record system hardware burned out, apparently, according to GMH management, due to power outages.

These critical maintenance issues are the latest in a long list of recurring problems at the government hospital, which has been operating for years now without enough cash to pay for all of its responsibilities, including providing care for patients regardless of their ability to pay their hospital bills.

In the latest audit of GMH finances, in fiscal 2018, the public hospital spent $123.7 million in operating expenses. The amount of cash that came in from patients and health insurers amounted to just $90 million.

Nearly $30 million in government subsidies and grants helped to cover part of the funding gap, but the public hospital still fell short of $3 million at the end of the budget year.

With this constant funding shortage, GMH has had no money left to invest in critical items like an elevator that fails constantly, a roof that leaks and an electronic health records system that is vulnerable to power fluctuations. We haven't begun to consider whether all these years of rainwater leaks have caused mold to grow behind the walls and ceilings in our hospital.

If this cash shortage were a one-time occurrence, we shouldn’t have to worry. But this recurring problem has led to auditors disclosing in prior audits that they fear the hospital may one day no longer be able to keep on providing hospital care. One day, its deteriorated financial and physical state could lead to the facility being shut down.

As of the fiscal 2018 audit, GMH carried on its books a staggering $139.9 million in unpaid patient bills, of which $106 million is considered “uncollectible.”

There are members of our community who have shown apathy or numbness to the problems of our only hospital because it seems this institution has problems all the time.

But now, more than ever, our level of concern should be more pronounced, especially for the tens of thousands of residents whose only hospital option is GMH.

GovGuam has ensured to take care of its own employees, retirees and their dependents when it comes to hospitalization needs on Guam. It's not a secret that recently enacted law made sure the GovGuam health insurance plan for the budget year that starts next month requires that the government's new health insurer covers hospitalization at the privately owned Guam Regional Medical City.

Our elected officials and their staffers can be assured that even when all of GMH’s elevators are unable to transport patients and medical equipment, and even if an entire wing at the government hospital crumbles, they’re going to be fine. They can go to Guam’s only private hospital.

For the rest of us in the private sector, who are self-paying patients or who have health insurance that doesn’t cover hospitalization at the private hospital, we’re simply stuck with GMH regardless of its state. Or we can stay in a hospital bed away from Guam and away from our families.

There hasn't been a recent sense of urgency to help GMH, and it's becoming apparent why.

A two-class system in health care has emerged in our community.

There are people and their families who are going to be fine even when GMH deteriorates further. And there are those whose only choice is a dilapidated GMH, for as long as the government hospital can continue to keep standing.

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