DOH Director nominee narrowly rejected by Senate
The Senate has again rejected Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s nomination of Seiuli Elizabeth Ponausuia as director of the Health Department. The blind vote was eight in support and seven opposing the nomination — a vote of 11 out of 15 was needed for her to pass muster.
Although the House has yet to hold a confirmation hearing or vote on the nomination, the Senate’s second rejection of Ponausuia prevents the governor from re-nominating her for the post during this ( 32nd) Legislature. The Senate rejected her nomination last year after she was approved by the House.
Prior to yesterday’s Senate vote, Ponausuia appeared before the Senate Health/Hospital Committee for her confirmation hearing and the first question raised by Sen. Fuata Dr. Tagiilima Iatala dealt with the governor’s proposal to transfer LBJ Medical Center back to the government under DOH jurisdiction. (The bill is pending in the Fono).
In response, Ponausuia said she had not received the official communication about the proposal, but if it does happen, both entities will continue their functions.
She also said that she believes that the goal for every entity should be that there is sufficient funding for operation — which is the same case for LBJ — as well as making sure there are “competent” workers.
Ponausuia did stress that she has no immediate plans for change since this is a new issue, but was quick to point out that she hoped the transfer of LBJ to DOH would not happen.
Fuata, who is an on-call pediatrician for LBJ, asked what the nominee’s plans would be to prevent the current financial issue faced at the hospital, if the facility comes under DOH jurisdiction.
Ponausuia again noted that LBJ has not come under DOH jurisdiction, but if such an issue does come up, she would look at the reduction of working hours — similar to the ones carried out by the Executive Branch last year; place emphasis on collecting outstanding bills owed to the hospital; and at the same time continue to look for other financial help — such as federal grants.
The main goal is to “have sufficient financial resources,” she said at least three times when asked later by senators during the 30-minute hearing. She further pointed out that just like DOH, the hospital also has an annual budget which should be followed and there should also be another plan in place in the event that a financial shortfall occurs.
Committee chairman Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli said this type of statement is greatly appreciated and should be followed by the government and all departments — “follow your budget plan.”
Sen. Lualemaga Faoa asked, “do you support LBJ being transferred to DOH?”.
Ponausuia replied, “if that improves LBJ I support it, but if it does not [improve LBJ], then I don’t support it.”
However, Lualemaga came back to say that the question deserves a simple answer of either “yes” or “no”. Ponausuia replied that her answer is then both “yes” and “no”, which brought laughter from senators and those in the Senate gallery.
Sen. Velega Savali Jr. wanted to know what the nominee’s current official job title is after she was rejected last year by the Fono.
Ponausuia, who has being with DOH for 25 years, explained that her official title is deputy director, a post she has held for about five years, and under regulations, one of the duties for a deputy director is acting as director, which means she is currently serving not only as deputy director but as acting director.
Before the hearing came to a close, Ponausuia shared with senators a program she is working on with the American Samoa Community College and the Pacific Island Health Officers Association (PIHOA), who have funding for a program for nursing and other medical professionals.
She said a PIHOA official is expected in the territory soon to meet with DOH and ASCC about this program, and that it will greatly assist American Samoa in educating more medical professionals.
Honolulu-based PIHOA provides a regional voice for the six United States Associated Pacific Islands (USAPI) in their development of sustainable and effective health systems. More information on PIHOA can be found at www.pihoa.org