Blas pushes for legal action in quarantine facility procurement

QUARANTINE FACILITY: The Pacific Star Resort & Spa in Tumon is pictured on April 2, 2020. The hotel was a designated government of Guam quarantine facility for travelers who had to stay quarantined for 14 days after arriving on Guam. Post file photo

While there has been a lot of talk regarding the Pacific Star Resort & Spa and its role as a quarantine facility on Guam, it appears that as of May 5, the hotel has not been paid.

The Guam Daily Post submitted a Sunshine Act request to the Office of the Governor on April 16 seeking contracts with quarantine and medical facilities. Adelup responded that it did not possess executed contracts or agreements with these facilities, but did provide some invoices for three hotels and about $11,000 in laundry services.

Pacific Star invoiced $544,600 to the Department of Public Health and Social Services for the period between March 23 and April 5.

Wyndham Garden Guam invoiced $201,600 to the Guam Homeland Security/ Office of Civil Defense for the period between March 18 and 31. Days Inn also invoiced GHS/OCD $61,600 for the same March time period.

A more recent request sent April 29 yielded the same invoices.

According to Department of Administration Director Edward Birn on May 5, all of the laundry invoices were paid. The Pacific Star invoice was not paid. And with Wyndham and Days Inn, only about half of their invoices were paid – $100,800 for Wyndham and $30,800 for Days Inn.

There have been concerns about the procurement of these hotels. From emails released to the Post, it appears the governor's legal counsel, Haig Huynh, facilitated the procurement.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has stood by the procurement and noted Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association President Mary Rhodes assisted Huynh by placing the call among her network. The hotels weren't selected by the administration but were the ones to answer the call, the governor said.

Will be federally paid

It's unclear whether payments already made by GovGuam will be reimbursed through the same funding source, but payments to quarantine facilities have been budgeted into the COVID-19 relief fund spending plan – $4 million out of $117 million in federal funds.

The government agreed to pay an all-inclusive room rate of $100 per night to use hotel facilities for quarantine, which should include utilities and local taxes, according to Carlo Branch, the governor's policy director.

There was initial talk of using Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to cover quarantine expenses, but according to Branch, that avenue is less efficient.

Not only does reimbursement mean local cash would be needed to front the costs, but FEMA would ultimately pay back just 75% of eligible expenses, Branch said.

"By way of contrast, recent guidance published for coronavirus relief funds consider the costs of quarantine facilities a fully eligible expense. This means the government of Guam won’t have to wait 18 months or more for FEMA reimbursement at a time when every state and territory in the country will likely be looking for the same," he added.

DeNorcey maintains she does not recall

Another controversy over the procurement of the hotels is the reported use of Linda Unpingco-DeNorcey's electronic signature without her consent. Unpingco-DeNorcey is the director of the Department of Public Health and Social Services. Her electronic signature was used to sign letters acknowledging use of the hotels as quarantine sites, something she did not recall authorizing despite emails indicating she had given her approval.

Lawmakers queried Unpingco-DeNorcey on the issue during an oversight hearing Friday. Unpingco-DeNorcey said she "had not done any procurement" with quarantine facilities.

And if her electronic signature is to be used, she is usually called about it, the director added.

"I don't recall the call, and that's the truth that I want to share," the director said in response to a question about whether she had authorized use of her signature.

Later, in a press briefing, Unpingco-DeNorcey said it was her "take" that the call was made to her, but she doesn't recall what it was for.

For a time, there were initially three hotels, including Hotel Santa Fe Guam. Pacific Star came later as the fourth and now, the main facility. There were no invoices from Santa Fe submitted in the Sunshine Act response. 

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