Retired USArmy CSM Motusa Tuileama To'atolu Nua confirmed by Senate for DoH
Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. (CSM) Motusa Tuileama To’atolu Nua was yesterday confirmed by the Senate in a 14-2 vote as director of the Department of Health. He goes before a House hearing today with a vote expected thereafter by the full membership.
During his Senate Health/Public Health Committee confirmation hearing yesterday morning, Motusa didn’t mince words when asked for his opinion on the current status of DoH, which gets federal funding.
It was Sen. Faumuina Tagisiaali’i, who first raised the issue asking if improvements are needed for the DoH and LBJ Medical Center. DoH is an ASG department, while the LBJ is a semi autonomous agency of ASG governed by a board of directors. The senator also sought an opinion about privatizing the medical center.
Motusa, who has been at the post for a few days, told the committee that there are many improvements needed at DoH and probably at LBJ, which is an issue that will have to be addressed by the medical center itself.
He said DoH plays a vital role in the health care needs of the territory, as they are the first line of help sought by the public and DoH must do its duties as the ASG agency responsible for “preventive” care — before a person really needs to go to the hospital.
For example, he said DoH must improve, among other things, “home visits” assessing the health needs of residents, and addressing those needs right away. By doing so, that will take the burden off LBJ, letting them focus on other medical matters for residents, he said.
As part of this improved service, Motusa said there is a need to add more physicians and nurses to DoH clinics. He also said that there are sufficient funds in the DoH budget to hire these individuals and as soon as the hiring freeze —in place since last month — is lifted, a request will be made to the governor to recruit more nurses and doctors.
The nominee said these new staffers will work in teams conducting home visits and working hand-in-hand with the hospital. He emphasized that DoH must work closely with LBJ to achieve the main goal of addressing health care needs of residents.
Motusa claimed that for a very long time, there have been no improvements made to the services provided by DoH. He said, for example, there are a lack of services at some clinics, who should be assisting LBJ.
He also told senators that it has been the mentality of DoH in the past that the public should come to them, instead of DoH taking their services to the community.
“The Health Department should be reaching out to the community to assess their health needs, instead of our people coming to the Health Department,” he stated.
“The health and well-being of our people was not a priority to previous directors,” he alleges and again noted that there are enough funds in the budget to hire more physicians and nurses for DoH to carry out home visits.
As to privatizing the hospital, Motusa said he has no opinion or a direct response to this issue but pointed out that privatizing also involves private insurance for medical care needs — which is a different direction altogether. He said such an issue needs to be thoroughly reviewed before any final decision is made.
Sen. Leatualevao Asifoa urged the nominee to make sure that health cards are issued to employees of stores, who are now selling cooked food. He said many of these businesses have started out just as a store, with Samoans working there — but are now selling cooked food, with more Asian workers.
Leatualevao said DoH must be honest and truthful when it comes to making sure food handlers at these types of stores as well as staff at all restaurants have health cards to ensure the health of the public is protected at all times. Additionally, he noted the importance of making sure that local laws dealing with stores and restaurants are fully enforced by DoH.
Sen. Mauga T. Asuega, chairman of the Senate Health/Public Health Committee, asked the nominee to consider a full review of all DoH clinics and health centers in the territory; and to also consider a request from a fellow senator about setting up a clinic on Aunu’u and at least one for Swains Island — which is also part of American Samoa.
Mauga recalled there were complaints that reached the Fono last year about the lack of medication for the clinic in Manu’a and this matter was never addressed by the previous administration. “Do something about this important issue for the Manu’a clinic,” he said.
All of the senators who spoke during the hearing praised the nominee for his service to the military and his willingness to now return home to serve the people of American Samoa. Sen. Tuiasina Esera recalled for his colleagues that Motusa, while in military service, came to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu to provide assistance to Samoans from the territory who were there for medical care. “This showed how much you cared for your Samoan people,” he said in an emotion filled voice.
Perhaps the uplifting part of the hearing was when Motusa was asked by Sen. Alo Fa’auuga as to his relationship with Sen. Nua Saoluaga, who was present during the hearing.
Motusa said the senator (Nua) is his older brother while he (Motusa) is the younger one, who must always respect the older one. This brought laughter from senators and the packed Senate Gallery.
In his closing remarks, Motusa revealed, that a health-outreach team of about 20 people from DoH will be heading to the Manu’a island group on Feb. 22 to conduct what he believes is the first comprehensive health care needs assessment of residents there.
He went on to say that he will personally travel to Aunu’u about the request for a clinic there; while the request for Swains Island will be considered.
Additionally, DoH has hired a full time dentist for the new Leone Health Center, where Leone High School students will soon begin dental check-ups, and this will be done for other schools in the area as well. He added that the the public will be served well with a full time dentist.
During his 35-years in the military, “Motusa held many positions of responsibility related to health and medical services provided to those in his command,” said the governor in his nomination letter to the Fono.
These positions include Command Sergeant Major for the Western Regional Medical Command, Pacific Regional Medical Command, 44th Medical Command, and 52nd Medical Battalion.