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SSIC opens hearings into LBJ finances and operations

LBJ Medical Center is the first government entity to be called before the Senate Select Investigative Committee's (SSIC) chaired by Senator Lualemaga Faoa.

The committee convenes Monday for its first investigative hearing at 9am and subpoenas for documents and witnesses have been issued said Lualemaga.

Subpoenaed witnesses include LBJ chief executive executive officer Michael Gerstenberger, chief financial officer Viola Babcock and board chairman Moananu Va, said Lualemaga. All witnesses will be put under oath before the hearing commences.

Lualemaga stressed that SSIC’s public investigative hearings are in compliance with local laws as well as the Senate Resolution, which created the investigative panel to probe operations and finances of the government including semi autonomous agencies.

“When the subpoenas are issued to witnesses, it also includes the Senate Resolution and this is the same case for the LBJ witnesses,” said Lualemaga, who headed the SSIC in 2003.

Senators, who are not members of SSIC can attend any hearings and ask questions, as long as they are allowed by a majority of the SSIC members present.

Members of the current SSIC are Senators Velega Savali Jr. (committee vice chairman), Fuata Dr. Tagiilima Iatala, Malepeai Setu, Fuamatu J.V. Fuamatu, Paogofie Fiaigoa and Mauga T. Asuega.

Although the government failed to pay out close to $3 million in subsidies to LBJ in fiscal year 2011, Lualemaga said yesterday the non-payment of subsidies is just one issue and there is still a need for the Senate to learn what actually happened at the hospital resulting in the current financial crisis.

“We are investigating operations and finances for the hospital,” said Lualemaga in a brief media interview at his Senate office. “Finances dealing with all money received, how it was expended.  We want to get to the bottom of the reason the hospital has a ‘deficit’ of about $16 million in uncollected debts.”

ASG deputy treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipe’a had told a Senate Health/LBJ Hospital Committee hearing earlier this week the biggest financial problem faced by the hospital is their accounts receivable which is now at $16 million. He said it is questionable if they will ever be able to recover $14 million of that $16 million.

Tonumaipe’a was dispatched in early February with ASG Internal Auditor Gaea F. Pelefoti, by Gov. Togiola Tulafono, to thoroughly review LBJ's financial records to find the root of the hospital's financial woes before ASG provided financial support.

At yesterday’s Senate session, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau called for all senators to support the SSIC hearings, adding that he has assigned staff to work with the committee during hearings and investigative work.

Lualemaga declined to say how long the SSIC will focus on LBJ or which ASG entity will be the next one on the committee’s agenda.