New DOH director sets goals to upgrade services
Retired U.S. Army CSM Motusa Tuileama To’atolu Nua was unanimously confirmed in the House in a 19-0 vote and a passing vote of 14-2 in the Senate, as director of the Department of Health.
The one hour confirmation hearing was held yesterday before the House Health/Public Health Committee chaired by Rep Maugaoalii Sipa Anoa’I, where issues pertaining to NCD, Health Regulatory Board, a clinic in Aunu’u, and house visits by DoH nurses were discussed.
The newly confirmed health director informed the Representatives that a team from DoH will be heading out to Manu’a on March 3, 2013 to conduct home visits and assessing the health needs of every one in Manu’a.
All the representatives who spoke during the hearing praised Motusa given his long term service in the military and returning home to serve the people and government of American Samoa. His announcement of their visit to Manu’a came after Aunu’u lawmaker Rep Talaimatai Su'a asked if they are looking at building a clinic in Aunu’u, seeing as there are health clinics in Leone, Tafuna and Amouli.
Rep Talaimatai said that often, due to bad weather and rough seas, the people of Aunu’u who need medical treatment are not able to cross over to Tutuila.
Motusa informed lawmakers that in two weeks, after returning from Manu’a, they will also visit Aunu’u to conduct health assessments for the villagers and they will also try to find a place to store oxygen tanks, first aid packages and other medication needed for emergencies, until the patients are able to cross over to Tutuila Island during bad weather.
He added that they will also conduct home visits to villages for the elderly people who refuse to go to the hospital.
The issues surrounding Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) was brought to Motusa’s attention by Tualauta Rep Larry Sanitoa. The lawmaker said that the most critical problem in the territory is people’s health, noting there was bilateral summit held last year November, which highlighted a lot of the critical issues facing the territory.
“It was then revealed to no surprise that our people are dying young and also that 60% of death in our community in 2010 was caused by NCD’s, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems and over the past three years diabetes is the number one killer in our community. It was also revealed that American Samoa is the fattest country in the world.
Aside from the financial situation, health would be the number one issue in the territory, he said, adding, " aside from personal impact to family it has a huge impact on our government"
"If we are talking about economic development- it’s very difficult when you have a sick community”.
Sanitoa told Motusa that the number one priority for the DoH should be prevention and the lack of a national plan is a reality that should be closely monitored given the health status of the territory.
Motusa explained that he has met with members of the cancer coalition and was informed that he is the Chairman of the NCD board, and upon receiving this information he immediately called a meeting with NCD members within the DoH. He also stated that NCD is top priority and they will continue to move forward and meet with health officials from Samoa regarding prevention.
Sanitoa asked Motusa regarding the status of the mandated health regulatory board which is chaired by the Director of Health. This board licenses all the doctors, physicians and nurses. Sanitoa inquired if there is a US certified Medical Doctor with the DoH. Motusa was unable to answer the question but stated that he will meet with the medical director and LBJ officials regarding this issue.
He assured the lawmakers that he will make sure the mandated health regulatory board will be active and should include two doctors from LBJ, two doctors from DoH, two nurses, the DoH Director and maybe a pharmacist.
Rep Vui Florence Saulo asked Motusa if he is looking at increasing medical services at the Health Center in Tafuna, given that Tualauta is where the majority of the population resides. Motusa said there is a goal set in place for increasing the medical services provided at all three medical centers, and that if another facility is needed, they will work to have another clinic.
“The DoH will start expanding their services with the laboratory, Xray, Dental Service and the pharmacy because these are the reasons why the elderly people are not coming to the clinics— because their services are limited in these areas” he said.
He further stated that they will be working closely with EMS to transport elderly patients who have no form of transportation and he also noted that there is space available at each of the clinics for EMS technicians to be stationed.
Regarding medical treatment for elderly people who refuse to go see the doctor, Motusa explained that the goal he has in place is to have four home visit teams for the Tafuna health center, and two teams in the Leone and Amouli clinics and between Monday and Friday, they will conduct home visits for the elderly people and reports will be compiled from these visits.
Rep Lemapu Talo Suiaunoa asked Motusa what his thoughts are on the law that disallows youth, 18 and under, to be tested for HIV, “should they be tested?” he asked, given this disease is alarming.
“In Guam teenagers can be tested yet here in the territory it’s banned” said Lemapu.
Motusa noted that he will bring up this issue with DoH, Department of Human Social Services and the LBJ hospital. He added that if there is a need to change the law, a proposal will be made to the governor and to the legislature. “Currently there is no HIV case in the territory and we will meet with DHSS and LBJ regarding this matter” he said.
Lemapu advised Motusa to be mindful of the employees and to treat them fairly “they are the ones to carry out the mission and for the vision to be accomplished, these are the people who will make it happen… with your guidance”.
Vice Speaker noted that there’s confusion within the dispensary in Manu’a, when a patient needs to be medivaced over, the DoH and LBJ are pointing fingers at each other as to who will pay the cost and urged Motusa to look into this critical issue that is causing confusion.
The lawmakers heard that the DoH housing in Faga’alu is no longer safe and DoH will seek assistance from the Capital Improvement Plan for a new building.
Motusa held many positions in the military, including Command Sergeant Major for the Western Regional Medical Command, Pacific Regional Medical Command, 44th Medical Command, and 52nd Medical Battalion.