Tofaeono confirmed, Leiataua rejected as LBJ board members
The Senate Thursday confirmed LBJ Medical Center board member Tofaeono Dr. Victor Williams in a unanimous vote of 12-0 but rejected board nominee Leiataua Leuga Turner in a vote of 7-yes and 4-no. One ballot was blank and therefore not counted.
Leiataua, former director of the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs during the Togiola Administration, needed 10-yes votes to be confirmed.
Tofaeono and Leiataua were the last two nominees to be acted on by the Senate. Other confirmed board members are Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen, Mase Akapo and Velega Savali. Only the Senate is required to confirm LBJ board members.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, the Senate Hospital/Health Committee held confirmation hearings for Tofaeono, a U.S. certified medical physician and Leiataua, who has served in various capacities in government over the years.
Up first for the Senate committee’s review was Tofaeono, who in his opening remarks shared with senators what he believes are three important factors for the medical center. Firstly, he said sufficient money is needed in order for LBJ to operate properly, hire the right personnel, purchase equipment and pay for other necessary supplies.
Also important is for LBJ to get certified physicians, nurses and other important technicians in order for LBJ to provide improved “quality care”. Furthermore, LBJ must work together with the Health Department to improve preventive care — in areas of chronic disease affecting residents.
If preventive care is in place, that decreases the number of patients seen by the only hospital in the territory, he said.
Tofaeono then pleaded for the Senate to support LBJ’s fiscal year 2014 budget already presented to the Fono as the money is needed to ensure excellent medical care is provided for residents of the territory. He said that in past years, either the executive branch or the Fono would cut or reduce LBJ’s budget submission.
Sen. Alo Fa’auuga said he has received a letter outlining problems at LBJ and among his concerns looking at the letter is the high pay scale for administrative employees. He wanted to know why these salaries are so high while the hospital continues to complain about the lack of financial resources.
Tofaeono explained when the new board came in early this year, there was already a reclassification done by the previous board, which has job titles such as vice presidents and other management positions with high salaries between $70,000 - $90,000 but these amounts were not in the budget.
He says the new board has worked on a new organizational chart with a fair pay scale and qualifications based on current finances.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono, along with other senators, said it's very important for the board to improve the pay-scale for doctors and other medical professionals working at LBJ. Added Sen. Leatualevao T. Asifoa, “we would rather see a pay increase” for medical professionals than administrators.
Sen. Tuiasina S. Esera said he is thankful the governor has appointed a well qualified person to sit on the board, saying that Tofaeono is — among other things — a U.S. certified medical physician.
He told Tofaeono it’s a well known fact that many local residents are scared of seeking medical treatment at the hospital, due to concerns with qualifications of physicians and other medical personnel.
He offered two suggestions for the board to consider: Privatize the LBJ morgue so that this service is handled by the private sector; and look at the millions of dollars in VA insurance for active military members to be used at LBJ.
Responding to a committee question, Tofaeono said the University of San Diego School of Medicine has been contracted to conduct a review and retesting of all LBJ physicians to make sure that they continue to provide quality work.
He says every doctor at LBJ will be tested under this evaluation and anyone who fails will be given the chance to study and retake the evaluation six months later — all in the name of making sure that LBJ provides qualify care for patients.
For nurses, he says LBJ also conducts a separate annual evaluation and review for them.
Sen. Mauga T. Asuega suggested LBJ push to have "our own people" be in the medical professions so they can work at the hospital instead of LBJ depending on off-island medical personnel.
Senators urged the board to do all possible to make sure LBJ provides excellent care for local residents and to make sure that something is done to restart the off-island medical referral program.
Tofaeono says he is very saddened that there have been no funds available for many years for the referral program, which is very useful because there are many patients without money to pay for their off-island medical care.
There were no specific questions asked of Leiataua, who was reminded by senators about the many questions raised with Tofaeono. (Leiataua was in the Senate gallery during the questioning of Tofaeono).
Leiataua was also reminded that if she is confirmed, she should support getting money in the budget to restart the referral program. Other senators noted that she is a women and a mother and therefore she will do well in supporting and advising the board.
The nominee echoed Tofaeono’s call for the Fono to support the hospital’s FY 2014 budget as LBJ is in need of financial help. She also said LBJ needs a new generation of younger doctors to take the hospital into the future.
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