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LBJ HR system dysfunctional for years says CEO

LBJ Medical Center has a “dysfunctional HR system” and “one of the biggest problems at the hospital is the high rate of absenteeism,” said Joseph Davis Fleming, the LBJ Medical Center Chief Executive Officer. This information was revealed in response to Samoa News questions regarding some of the hospital’s top management positions that are still vacant.


Fleming has been wearing several hats for the last few months, aside from being the CEO — filling in, while looking for qualified personnel.


Currently he is Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Acting Director for Human Resources (HR), and Acting Director of Health Information Systems (HIS).


He also served as the Grants Administrator at one time, but has recently hired Mick McCuddin to fill the position. According to Fleming, McCuddin has worked for the territory in past years and will be giving LBJ his considerable expertise in this area. He said the hospital lost millions of dollars because there was no one in this important position to secure funding for current health care programs or to attain more funding for new programs.


The LBJ CEO told Samoa News he’ll also be bringing in a new management team of experts in the area of Human Resources, explaining that the hospital’s workforce is large and yet there’s only four people working in that department, which has created a “dysfunctional human resources” situation. He said data processing and the manual system are both filled with errors.


Fleming said right now the management team is wasting time trying to fix the system instead of working to better the system. He also said numerous errors in the HR system are in violation of labor laws, due to the ineffective management of the hospital workforce.


“People wonder why there are problems, because we (the hospital) don’t do a good job with training and — again in violation of federal laws — it puts the hospital at risk if Human Resources problems are not fixed.


“We’ve been sanctioned by the federal government almost every year because of these violations, and eventually the feds will be tired of seeing the same mistakes repeated over and over... they will not take us seriously anymore.”


Fleming said the hospital has hired Dr. Akenese Pula Mutini as Assistant Director of HR, who will help with the longstanding issues faced by the hospital.


He said another position they are looking at filling is the Salary and Benefits 


Administrator, who plays a key role in the administration, noting the hospital has lost millions by overpaying top positions, because there was no one to oversee this specific, critical area in the HR Department.


“There are so many errors with HR that have cost the hospital for over 10 years in excess of millions in overpaying people. Typically, if someone is getting overpaid they're not likely to be quick to point that out, however they are quick to point out when they are shorted… which happens often.”


He said that hiring Dr. Mutini means she’ll be involved in the restructuring of the hospital. He told Samoa News there will be a major reshuffling within the hospital because if the hospital stays under the same organizational structure, nothing will change, however with the reshuffling, new people will come in and start fresh and new.  


Another problem the hospital does not manage well is absenteeism – which is extremely high according to the CEO — and this leads to others collecting overtime.


"I noticed in certain departments that one person calls in sick every week, and yet nothing has ever been done — and they are still given their salary increase.


“Which is what I always question — why are we giving this person a salary raise for only showing up for work — if they even show up?  And that’s not fair for those who work very hard and come to work every day,” he said.


Fleming further told Samoa News this will change, and they will start evaluating performance, because in the past there have been numerous errors in the manual system and there have been no generated reports with the aspect of staffing and productivity.


"How many people are being paid who come in to work? And how many people are paid who call in sick?"


He said it appears that there’s probably 20% absenteeism, when it should be less than 5%. “It needs to be addressed, we cannot afford to pay for overtime,” he said.


Fleming further noted that Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga has some commendable goals for the hospital, "yet we cannot achieve them with the current problems at the hospital."


He said, “My assessment of the hospital’s operation is that it is more like that of a third world hospital, instead of a first world hospital with financial support from the US."


"Major changes are needed," Fleming stated.


The CEO said the Hospital Board has approved a new pay scale, based on the federal government system.


“What we were doing in the past was not authorized and using multiple pay scales at the discretion of the former HR person, there was no logic, there was no system, as to how people got paid.


“There were so many inconsistencies; however with the new approved pay scale we have made it a much more equitable, fairer system based on performance — and it will actually benefit the vast majority of employees, especially the low wage earners. They're the ones who will be the first to be transitioned into the new pay scale, because they're the ones who have been neglected the most, and they're the ones struggling more than anyone else.


“Bottom line is — management has the responsibility to take care of its people. You hold them accountable, and that hasn’t happened in the hospital,” he noted.


Regarding Health Information Systems, Fleming said this position has been vacant since last year, yet it’s a critical position mandated by federal regulations to be filled and he’s looking at hiring someone from the mainland.