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Soliai: Suspend or revoke licenses for physicians in malpractice lawsuits

Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono has called for the ASG Health Regulatory Board to suspend or revoke the license of any physician who is responsible for a malpractice lawsuit against the American Samoa Government, saying that more oversight is needed by the board to monitor those who are issued a license to practice medicine in the territory.


“Over the years, there were a lot of malpractice suits against the government due to wrong decisions or actions taken by physicians at the hospital, and the government has spent tens of thousands of dollars— or perhaps millions— to settle these lawsuits,” Soliai said during a Samoa News interview.


Soliai says he has learned of a new malpractice lawsuit yet to be filed against the government resulting from a physician’s action at the hospital.


The Ituau senator raised the issue during last week’s Senate Health/Hospital Committee confirmation hearing for the new Health Department director Motusa Tuileama To’atolu Nua, who under local statute is chairman of the regulatory board.


Soliai said that as board chairman, Motusa should take the lead in making sure that all physicians licensed to practice medicine in the territory abide by federal and local laws. He says any physician who ends up being the cause of a malpractice lawsuit should have their license suspended or even revoked.


Additionally, the board should fully review the medical credentials of all non U.S. certified physicians working in the territory to make sure they meet federal certification criteria, said Soliai.


During his House confirmation hearing last Thursday, Motusa assured lawmakers that he will make sure the regulatory board will be active and should include two doctors from LBJ, two doctors from DOH, two nurses, the DOH Director and maybe a pharmacist.


When asked about Gov. Lolo Moliga’s plans for the health regulatory board and its members, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Pereira told Samoa News last Friday that the issue “is being discussed right now” and a decision will be released once it's been made by the governor.


Local statute says the board is  composed of the director of Health (chairman), and, in addition, the governor shall appoint to the board: one physician, the public health officer, the director of Nursing Services, a medical officer, a dentist, a licensed practical nurse, and a representative from the American Samoa Community College nursing program.


At least 50% of the board, excluding the chairman, must be American Samoans and appointments made by the Governor may not exceed 3 years and must be staggered in order to insure continuity of the Board, whose duties includes regulating health services in American Samoa.


The board also licenses all individuals to practice medicine in the territory such as physicians, dentists and nurses, and the board has the authority to refuse to renew, suspend, or revoke any license issued by them.


Soliai told Samoa News that in past years, the board has continued to ignore malpractice suits against the government involving physicians or even lawsuits for alleged wrongdoing on the part of a physician.


“I have not heard of any specific actions by this board against a physician. Does this board exist at all? What are they doing? What do they plan to do in the future?,” Soliai asked. "We will give the new Health director time to settle in to look at these issues and hopefully soon, the Senate will call him back for another hearing to discuss this and other health issues.”


“I believe in preventive action before things get worse, and the board plays the prevention role in protecting residents,” he said adding that there are a lot of patients coming to the hospital for help and “they need to know that they are safe in the hands of medical personnel”.


He said the board needs to look at the credentials of LBJ physicians being recruited from non U.S. jurisdictions. “I see a lot of physicians from foreign countries working at the LBJ and the first question that comes to mind is - are they certified to work here?”


Responding to Samoa News questions from last Friday, LBJ chief executive officer Mike Gerstenberber said yesterday that “All applicants here go through a detailed credentialing process when they apply, and every two years thereafter.”


“One of the elements of that review is that the practitioner hold a valid license to practice medicine in American Samoa issued by the Health Regulatory Board,” he said.