Two developments related to the only two hospitals for civilians on Guam became public on Monday.

First, the privately owned Guam Regional Medical City confirmed 40 of its employees were laid off as part of a restructuring to be more efficient and save money. GRMC had hired a restructuring officer in April following a management change. The private hospital's Philippine owners had overspent on developing the hospital, which cost $411 million, nearly double the original budget of $220 million.

Obviously, as a private enterprise, GRMC can act quickly to cut costs and try to make up for what it overspent.

Later Monday, an audit report on government-run Guam Memorial Hospital became public.

While many may have tuned out and have gotten tired of hearing GMH's financial woes – following year after year of audit findings that essentially say GMH runs short of cash in large part because it can't refuse patients even when they can't pay – this latest audit report should raise heightened concern. It should also hopefully prompt elected officials to move with a sense of urgency.

The audit report indicates GMH might be on an even faster slide. If our elected officials don't do anything drastic, the hospital's financial condition could become too far deteriorated to resuscitate in the not-so-distant future.

One of the more concerning numbers in the report is the loss of customers at GMH since the private hospital opened. 

The number of patients who sought care at GMH decreased by 14,000, or 29%, during the fiscal 2018 audit. Three budget years prior, GMH saw 46,000 patients. GMH's total patient count dropped to about 32,000 in fiscal 2018.

As GMH's financial condition deteriorates, it could be aggravated by the exit of more paying patients and patients covered by health insurance who can get care at the newer, more specialty-driven GRMC.

GMH collects only 49 cents for every $1 billed for all patients, the fiscal 2018 audit found.

Patients who were underinsured or lacked health insurance coverage racked up 18%, or $28 million, of the hospital's total billings in fiscal 2018, but GMH collected only $7.3 million, the audit added.

Guam taxpayers have been subsidizing GMH year after year. GovGuam also has borrowed money to help keep GMH afloat.

But taxpayers can't be writing bigger bailout checks year after year for GMH.

Elected officials, in consultation with the public and experts in the private sector, need a comprehensive approach to solving GMH's woes. These should be done with more urgency than the other issues that have taken priority for this current set of senators and administration officials.

The discussions GMH should have been a priority over carnival gambling or bingo or ensuring GovGuam employees and retirees' health insurance covers the private hospital.

These elected officials need to tackle GMH's problems head-on rather than take a Band-Aid approach.

Temporary fixes won't work to save GMH. And we hope the actions elected officials take will be meaningful enough to save GMH rather than have the effect of driving our first civilian hospital into the ground.

Recommended for you