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Lolo steps into EMS chaos; Popo has retained counsel

Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga has stepped into the chaos at the LBJ hospital, regarding the sudden suspension of EMS Manager Galumalemana Fuapopo “Popo” Avegalio last Thursday. The Governor’s Executive Assistant Iulogologo Pereira confirmed with Samoa News that the Governor has sent a letter to LBJ Board Chairperson Sandra King Young and LBJ CEO Mike Gerstenberger recommending the reinstatement of Popo to his position as EMS Manager.  

Popo who has served with the EMS for over 30 years was suspended last Thursday, after he failed to appear at a meeting called by the LBJ officials, Samoa News was told by Iu, who said Popo was in a meeting with the Governor and it was after this meeting he was suspended. Iu noted that not attending a meeting called by hospital officials is not grounds for suspension.

“The meeting was called for EMS officials to make a presentation before the Governor,” said Iu.

Samoa News was unable to obtain Lolo’s letter sent to the LBJ Board and CEO. Responding to questions from Samoa News on Friday, the LBJ CEO said Popo was suspended and did not comment as to why, but said, “As you know, we do not comment on personnel matters, so we will not say anything more than that.”

Samoa News spoke to Popo, who also declined to comment but referred queries to his legal counsel, Charles Alailima. Emails sent to the attorney were not answered as of press time.

On Thursday, Samoa News was informed that a meeting was called by the LBJ officials where LBJ CEO Mike Gerstenberger, COO Toaga Seumalo, Ana Hargett (LBJ Vice President of Human Resources) and Sa Mavaega (Vice President of Physician Services) were present.

It was during this meeting, the LBJ CEO informed EMS officials that Popo “has been placed on suspension for 30 days to be terminated, and his position will be advertised after the 30 days.”

The same day, Sa Mavaega, Maintenance Manager, who oversees EMS, issued a memorandum  appointing Soloi Lagoo as Acting Manager for EMS, effective until the Manager’s Position is advertised 30 days from the date of the letter.

Samoa News understands that Popo was not formally informed by the LBJ officials, but rather was told by his subordinates that he was suspended, and about to be terminated. The maintenance crew showed up at the EMS building and changed the locks to Popo’s office, while Popo was still inside the building.

A close relative of Popo, who spoke to Samoa News on condition of anonymity, said their family is still reeling from the effects of LBJ's decision, made without due process.

“The lynching and the public character assassination of any employee is a lawless move made by those who are confident that they are above the law. A move made to put fear in those who would oppose them. It is obvious that there is no Equal Employment & Opportunity Officer in place to protect LBJ/EMS staff from this type of violation of human rights," said the relative who added that there is a lack of concern for liability issues in the event that their family may decide to sue the hospital.

“A situation where the CEO and CFO will be safely gone, while the remaining local LBJ staff authority and our people of American Samoa will be left holding the bag,” said the relative.

Samoa News understand EMS technicians are not happy with the LBJ officials' decision to suspend their boss without a logical explanation as to why it occurred.