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Push is on for medical charter for patients and stranded residents

Rendering of the proposed new fono building.
Coronavirus Task Force called to answer Fono questions this morning

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Lawmakers convened this week after a two-week break with Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga cautioning representatives that whenever they speak with the media on issues, they must speak with caution and respect — remembering that they are members of the Fono and represent the Fono.

“Our duty is to protect the dignity and the integrity of the Fono,” said Vaetasi, adding that “Whatever you share with the media, don’t forget that there are thousands and thousands of our people around the world who will review it and read it.”

He advised his fellow colleagues to consider their thoughts first before they speak to the media.

“First, you have to consider the reason why we are all here and the responsibility we are given. We are all elected by our respective constituents to be their voice, not our own thoughts. So, whenever you go public with any statement or issues, don’t forget that you’re the image of the Fono,” said Vaetasi.

The statement by Vaetasi was made after Manu’a Faipule, Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr raised the issue regarding the response from the American Samoa Coronavirus Task Force about a second Medicaid charter flight to evacuate patients for off-island treatment and repatriate residents stranded off island.

Vesi, the chairman of the House Health Committee continued his push for a medical charter when lawmakers re-convened after the two-week break.

He informed the Speaker and his colleagues that the request by the Committee for a flight to bring home stranded residents and take patients needing treatment off island had been denied by the Coronavirus Task force.

He said the Health Committee would not rest because of the cry from our people who want to come home and also those needing to go off island for medical treatment.  The Manu’a faipule said it’s his understanding there are 100 people in the latter category.  He asked that the Coronavirus Task Force be brought in for questioning about their decision and to explain their plans. 

Rep Vesi also pointed out that the 7th Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 continues the restriction on hours of operation for businesses, which is negatively affecting the private sector. This is another issue that he wants the Task Force to be questioned about.

Vesi stated that he fully understands the reason behind the ASG COVID-19 Task Force’s denial of the committee’s request, is to protect American Samoa from the coronavirus because the numbers of cases in Hawaii and the mainland are still climbing, however, it’s been months since our government was given the challenge to take every option to prepare us for anything that could happen.

“This committee will not rest until we know that something is done to evacuate our patients for off-island treatment and to bring home our people who have been stranded outside for many months,” said Vesi.

“As I speak this morning (this past Monday morning) over 100 patients are on the waiting list that need to be evacuated to Hawaii and the mainland for off-island treatment and this is one of the many reasons why the committee is fighting so hard for this issue,” said Vesi.

He also expressed concern about the ban on bingo games when other gatherings with thousands of people— and with no social distancing is being allowed.  He said that it’s not children that police are dealing with in the enforcement of the ban on bingo games… it’s elderly fathers and mothers.

He said police should be taught the proper cultural protocols and how to address the elderly.

He concluded his statement by asking House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale to consider the committee’s request seriously for a chance to bring members of the Task Force to the house chamber so that they can discuss more option regarding this issue.

The statement by Vesi that over 100 patients are on the waiting list awaiting a decision to evacuate to Hawaii and the mainland for off-island treatment was down played by Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Fu’e Allen, who is also a member of the LBJ Board.

In response to Vesi’s statement, Faimealelei suggested that before the hearing with the Task force, the House should seek verification of the 100 patients needing treatment off island.  He said he’s a member of the LBJ Hospital Board and he’s not aware of this.

Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui recommended that they discuss the issue with the governor and come to an amicable solution.  He said he understands the need to prevent the territory from the pandemic but they must also heed the cries of our people who have been stranded away from their homes and families.

He was also unhappy about the way police acted toward elderly fathers and mothers at bingo games over the weekend and reminded that the conduct of police officers in dealing with members of the public — particularly the elderly has been raised several times with the Commissioner of Public Safety.

Fetu asked why bingos are banned — yet campaign kickoffs are allowed.  He said the rules should be applied equally and not for some and not others.  He said there should be no exceptions and no one is above the law.

For his part House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale stated that its been 6-7 months since the government has been occupied with preparations to protect the territory from coronavirus and he felt this was ample time to put plans in place. He supported having the Coronavirus Task Force appear before the House to answer members’ questions.  

A hearing with the Coronavirus Task Force is set this morning, Wednesday, Aug. 26th at 8:30a.m.