The Guam Board of Medical Examiners has identified an individual from Hawaii to investigate the case of Dr. Abner Pasatiempo, the former Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center psychiatrist at the center of harassment accusations. But the board is awaiting funding to retain that person for the investigation.
The board is also also waiting for funding to retain professionals for other investigations, according to board discussions Wednesday.
Responding to a request for comment, Zennia Pecina, the Health Professional Licensing Office administrator, said some funding is available, "but it may not be enough" to address all pending and ongoing investigations, some of which may require more money than others. She could not comment on any specific case.
Speaker Therese Terlaje and Sens. Telo Taitague and Chris Duenas, have sponsored Bill 43-36 to help move along investigations for health professional licensing boards, but the measure simply exempts such boards from the procurement law when contracting professional consultants, experts and expert witnesses for administrative or judicial proceedings.
It does not provide a funding source to retain these professionals, although the bill does acknowledge that it can be exceedingly difficult for health professional licensing boards to objectively review applications or investigate complaints due to lack of specialists in a particular profession on island, or because of conflicts or concern about the appearance of conflicts of interest.
Compliance with Guam procurement laws unnecessarily complicates and delays the boards' access to these professionals, the bill added.
According to Terlaje, there is no bill that addresses funding for investigations.
"The board requested authority to hire experts which we introduced in Bill No. 43-36," Terlaje stated.
Funding still needed
The board is already authorized to draw from licensing fees, which are fed into a revolving fund, to finance investigations.
However, Dr. Nathaniel Berg, chairman of the GBME, said Wednesday, "It's never going to be enough," and he would ask lawmakers to specifically allocate money for investigations.
Assistant Attorney General Rob Weinberg, legal counsel for the board, said these matters dovetail into discussions about the budget needs, but there is no source of funding in Bill 43 and it will be up to the HPLO administrator to identify resources "wherever she can, for now."
Six patients filed a complaint against Pasatiempo in December 2019, alleging inappropriate physical contact, according to various board discussions on the matter.
Pasatiempo's license was up for renewal around the time the complaint was submitted, but he withdrew the renewal application. He had also been suspended from Behavioral Health, according to board discussions in December 2019. Pasatiempo resigned from the agency that year.
By the end of December 2019, he was no longer licensed on Guam. And with Pasatiempo not seeking renewal, the board lost its jurisdiction to continue investigating the case.
However, because Pasatiempo opted not to renew his license pending an investigation by GBME, a report was made to the National Practitioner Data Bank. He is now seeking reinstatement and to settle the complaint in order to find employment in Alaska.
But the former Guam psychiatrist now also faces criminal misdemeanor charges, accused of official misconduct and harassment for allegedly touching a patient inappropriately and making suggestive comments and gestures to others during his time at Behavioral Health.
The offenses allegedly occurred during appointments or sessions with Pasatiempo between March 2018 and December 2019. He is expected in court on March 5.