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Togiola apologizes in advance for LBJ fee hike

Gov. Togiola Tulafono used his weekend radio program to announce that the LBJ Medical Center will be implementing new facility fees and offered in advance a public apology to the community in the event the move by LBJ happens soon.

Samoa News reported last week, that on  Monday, LBJ chief executive officer Mike Gerstenberger informed hospital personnel the hospital has received the final payment of the $3 million loan from the Workmen’s Compensation Account after the hospital met all of the requirements to get this money from the Executive Branch.

Gerstenberger also revealed that LBJ is working on implementing new, “somewhat higher facility fees” and the hospital anticipates these new fees will become effective sometime in May.

(See Samoa News edition Apr. 17 for full details of Gerstenberger’s e-mail to LBJ employees).

On his radio program, Togiola said he has written to the hospital board, acknowledging that the hospital has met all of the conditions of the $3 million loan set by his office and therefore the rest of the loan was released to the hospital.

The governor says the government is now working on collecting revenues from the new 2% wage tax to start repaying the loan, so that the compensation account is protected for the future, when needed.

Once the repayment is done, all future revenues collected will go directly to LBJ, said Togiola, adding that although it’s a small amount of money to be collected from the wage tax, this is one solid financial assistance for the hospital that can be used to secure advance funding from Medicaid.

The governor said the $3 million is not sufficient to cover other pressing expenditures faced by LBJ,  such as medication and equipment, but it’s a new revenue source that will assist the hospital in heading forward.

However, Togiola said this new revenue source is still not sufficient to fully fund operations of the hospital and therefore he has asked the hospital board to review at this time the cost of hospital service, and hospital fees for medication in a way that would be affordable for the community, but will provide additional support for the hospital.

He said the hospital needs to raise additional revenues because of the outcome of the Senate’s decision. (The Senate has rejected the administration bills for an $8 million loan from the ASG Retirement Fund and a separate $10 million appropriation funded with a hike in excise tax and business licenses fees.)

Togiola says there will be a hike in hospital facility fees because the government was not able to achieve its goal of a new financial aid package for the hospital. He said the Executive Branch will continue to knock on the doors of the Fono in the hope of getting approval for new money for LBJ.

The governor said he is making this announcement in advance as well as apologizing to the public in the event the community is faced with a new hike in facility fees soon. He said the community cannot turn its back on the hospital but must find ways to ensure LBJ financial stability that will allow them to continue to provide proper care for residents.

Senators are hoping that when the Fono returns in July the House will act on a Senate approved bill which seeks a $2 million refinanced loan under ASG’s $20 million loan with the Retirement Fund.