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It's cheaper to send people off island than hiring a cardiologist, says Medical director

Medical Director of the LBJ Hospital, Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga [SN file photo]

Medical Director of the LBJ Hospital, Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga testified during a Senate committee hearing last week that it's very expensive for the hospital to recruit a cardiologist, in terms of salary and equipment needed for such service.

Meanwhile, Sen. Fonoti Tafa’ifa Aufata shared with the committee, as well as health officials who were witnesses at the hearing, her belief as to why people have heart problems — having too many spouses.

The Senate Committee of the Whole, chaired by Sen, Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua, called a hearing early last week to discuss various health issues relating to the LBJ and the Health Department.

Nuanuaolefeagaiga raised an issue that has been floating around in the Fono as well as the community in past years, regarding the absence of a cardiologist at LBJ. He wondered how long the territory will have to wait before LBJ hires a cardiologist, adding that many of the patients seeking off island medical treatment are those with heart problems.

Saleapaga explained that cardiologists are considered “sub-specialities” in the medical profession and these physicians are very expensive in terms of salary, and the medical equipment they use is “not cheap”.

According to Saleapaga, several years ago, LBJ recruited a cardiologist, who was here not more than six months before leaving and this was a loss to the hospital as far as the money spent on bringing in all the necessary equipment for the cardiologist.

“We spent a lot of money — thousands of dollars — and this guy left,” he testified.

According to the medical director, it’s more affordable for the hospital to send a patient off island for medical care instead of employing a cardiologist. He noted that LBJ can recruit a cardiologist, but it won't be cheap.

Also, it depends on whether there is a cardiologist who wants to come to American Samoa.

Saleapaga said that if there is cardiologist willing to come to American Samoa, it will most likely be a physician who has already retired. He noted that the salary for a cardiologist would be around $200,000 or more a year.

A 2016 Cardiologist Compensation report by US-based Medscape Group shows that the lowest salary range for cardiologist is $190,000 working for an outpatient clinic; $368,000 working at a hospital; and $454,000 working at a healthcare organization. <>

During the committee hearing, Fonoti revealed her take on why people have been faced with heart problems.

According to her, if a man has too many wives he will have heart problems because instead of focusing on one wife, he will also have to worry about the  “stand-by” wife.

The comment resulted in laughter from several senators, witnesses, and others in the Senate gallery.

For a woman, Fonoti said if they have too many husbands — with one day set aside for the man she is legally married to, and different days set aside for the “stand-by” husbands — that will cause heart problems for her.

The Tualauta female senator said people need to take care of themselves first, to prevent these many health problems.