On Tuesday – days into the Legislature’s discussion of Guam’s nearly $1 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year – the very pressing matter of how to pay to fix Guam Memorial Hospital’s chronically leaky roof finally came up.

Sen. Therese Terlaje, the Legislature’s health committee chairwoman, proposed the hospital receive an extra $10 million in fiscal 2020. Terlaje suggested the money should be used to complete at least one of GMH’s top three capital improvement projects.

GMH has outlined capital improvements worth $57 million. The top three priorities:

• a new electronic health records system,

• electrical panel replacement, and

• structural roof repair.

The electronic health records system is estimated to cost $21.8 million, the electrical panel $6 million, and the structural roof repair $5 million.

These projects have been looming for years and are critical mandates raised by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Terlaje’s office has stated in a press release.

It makes sense to fix the roof and electrical panel first, so we hope this $10 million amendment, which has stayed intact as of Tuesday evening, will not be stricken by the time the budget arrives at Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s desk to be signed into law.

The sight of GMH’s staff guiding patients by the arm as they walk through slippery corridors, where mops and buckets and posted “caution” signs are a common sight during rainy days, do not inspire confidence in residents worried about its state of disrepair affecting the health care and safety of patients and employees. The leaky roof problem also doesn’t help GMH convince inspectors from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who have popped in, unannounced, to see how GMH is holding up, and how it is addressing its lingering problems – which the hospital hasn’t been able to address because of a lack of funding.

The top budget decision-makers in the government of Guam know full well that CMS has been monitoring GMH to see if the hospital’s facilities are improved to provide a safe environment for patients and hospital employees. Down the road, if CMS sees this problem did not get taken care of, millions of dollars in federal funds for the hospital could be withheld. The hospital, financially ailing as it is, could go into a tailspin without the federal funds.

In addition to the $10 million for facilities repairs and technology upgrade, the budget bill appropriates $28 million to the public hospital. GMH usually gets $30 million in a year in subsidy from GovGuam’s General Fund, but that money primarily will be used to keep the hospital running by paying vendors, doctors, nurses and other staff, but it won’t be enough to repair and upgrade the hospital’s flagging infrastructure.

We hope the roof repair funding will become law this time. And we also hope GMH will move quickly to use the money as it’s intended.

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