Lawmakers have adopted a $5 million funding amendment to help hire specialty doctors at the Guam Memorial Hospital.
The provision, along with another funding amendment for the hospital, had proven to be a contentious topic for lawmakers, even appearing to catch its author, Sen. Telena Nelson, by surprise.
“I appreciate the dialogue on this matter. I didn’t think it would be such a contentious issue. But as being part of the Legislature, on Aug. 19, we have seen doctors come forward in the media and the press, saying that there’s a shortage of specialists,” Nelson said Monday morning.
The amendment draws funding out of audited surplus revenues from fiscal year 2022. Appropriations chair Sen. Joe San Agustin said that funding source was at $24 million, although Sen. Telo Taitague counted the figure at $20 million to $23 million, taking into account other amendments that had passed.
Taitague objected to providing $5 million for the hiring.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in here more than I who would like a specialist on island because I, myself, have had to leave island for specialty care. But it was brought earlier by the administration from Guam Memorial Hospital that they didn’t ask for this funding. In fact, if this was an area that they were looking into for funding, they would’ve asked during the budget hearing … but right now there’s a bigger issue at the hospital. They came down here in full force and with the backing of an Army Corps of Engineers report stating the need for the electrical panel, as well as the subpanel and generator,” Taitague said, referring to Friday’s discussions with health officials about their needs and priorities
GMH Administrator Lillian Perez Posadas stated last week that her priority is the hospital’s electrical panel, as addressing that would benefit the entire facility.
However, Sen. James Moylan, who is sponsoring an amendment to fund renovations at the hospital’s labor and delivery ward, said GMHA should seek American Rescue Plan funding. That would grant urgent support, whereas moneys from the fiscal year 2022 surplus would come much later, if the funding was available, Moylan contended.
Taitague had levied concerns with appropriating surplus funding on items not considered priorities by the Army Corps of Engineers. On Monday, she said the Legislature should be cautious with the surplus, arguing that Guam needs “some type of cushion” as she pointed to shortfalls in special funds that may need to be addressed by the General Fund. Taitague said she supported the intent of Nelson’s amendment but held reservations with its financing, before lodging her objection.
Nelson said the governor had the authority to transfer funding for special fund shortfalls.
“We’re raising it like a big, red flag. But there wasn’t a big, red flag when we were appropriating millions and millions of dollars to fix our roads. No concern there. But now, we’re counting our dollars, being greedy to help the people of Guam, specifically for their illness and ailments,” Nelson said.
The amendment was put to a vote, which it passed, and was adopted in the morning. Lawmakers worked on other amendments through the afternoon and into the night. The amendment to fund the renovation of GMH’s labor and delivery ward was still pending discussion as of press time.
Lawmakers have until Aug. 31 to pass the budget bill.