Gov to DOI: Our healthcare system is in crisis
In his recent letter to Eileen Sobeck, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Insular Affairs, Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga pointed out that American Samoa’s healthcare system is in a state of crisis, and in need of external intervention; and while limited financial resources are at the root of the current challenges, unstable governance and management controversies “exacerbate the existing volatile environment”.
While these issues are being worked out, major systemic constraints require bold action, he told Sobeck. “For example, our Medicaid Program is being assessed, whether the existing configuration best serves the needs of our people.”
“Moreover, analogous to many states and territories, American Samoa is struggling to find out how it can capitalize on the dictates of the Affordable Care Act relative to accessing affordable insurance policies by approximately 95% of the territory’s resident population.”
“Basic healthcare system components such as state of the art diagnostic equipment and US Board Certified physicians and technicians remain in critical demand, and federal measures provide avenues for additional funding,” Lolo wrote.
The quality of physicians accessible by American Samoa is dictated by salary offerings and given the world competition for US Board Certified Physicians; American Samoa is barred because it lacks the financial wherewithal to properly compensate physicians and technicians.
The governor noted that perhaps it would be prudent to start exploring the merits of constructing a new facility since the existing facility is over 40 years old. Instead of investing funds to do patch work it might be beneficial, from the long term perspective, to construct a new hospital.
However, while this discussion is being waged, the hospital is proceeding with the upgrading of existing facilities he said.
Governor Lolo also pointed out the need for the LBJ Tropical Medical Center to re-establish the off-island medical referral program, as it has long being recognized that LBJ Tropical Medical Center’s medical treatment capacity is limited to routine procedures.
“This recognition necessitates the availability of a treatment option outside of American Samoa for medical procedures not possible on island. “ This was the purpose of the Off-Island Medical Referral Program to Hawaii and the West Coast. For the last 3 to 4 years, lack of funding has effectively preempted this avenue forcing critical patients to secure their own treatment off-island. This is unacceptable given 87% of American Samoa’s population live below the poverty level pursuant to Medicaid disclosure.
He also pointed out that the territory is the only US entity in the South Pacific requiring five hours of flight to the next US run medical facility. While New Zealand and Australia are closer with medical treatment facilities and treatment of comparable quality to US Standard, we are US Nationals and immigration requirements are stringent.
In essence, the LBJ Tropical Medical Center is the only healthcare facility that can provide treatment for our people for routine treatment. However, critical emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes, or other organ failures cannot be handled by the LBJ Tropical Center which compels the need to send the patient off-island for immediate attention.
He further explained that Hawaiian Airlines only provides two flights a week; with flight dates frequently changing depending on other priorities of the airline and with critical cases as in the recent case of our Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, whose need for medical evacuation could not be accommodated by the current Hawaiian Airlines flight schedule.Over 24 hours lapsed before the plane was dispatched to medevac our Congressman, and in cases such as this, every minute can be critical.
“This incident brought home the fact that our LBJ Tropical Medical Center must aggressively engage in improving its services” the Governor said.
Samoa News will report on other issues brought up in his letter to DOI in later editions.
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