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Cancer Center's closure seems imminent

by Janjeera Hail

The crisis surrounding the Guam Cancer Center hasn't been resolved.  Despite the Guam Board of Medical Examiners approving a special temporary license on Wednesday, as it stands now it appears the Tamuning facility will close its doors for good as the oncologist has resigned, fed up with the government.

"It has to be open, keep it open. If I make a wish, then the Cancer Center would be open all the time," said 84-year-old Juan Untalan Torres.

Cancer patients on Guam heaved a sigh of relief yesterday as news broke that the Guam Board of Medical Examiners was granting Dr. David Walde, a licensed Canadian oncologist, a special emergency license so that he could fill in for the Cancer Center of Guam's Dr. Samuel Friedman while the latter went off-island.  But that relief was cut short when Walde announced that he was withdrawing his application to practice here.

Shortly thereafter, Friedman followed suit, announcing his resignation.

In a letter to Friedman, Walde said he was discouraged by the uphill battle he faced trying to obtain a local license and the negative comments he read on a local media web site, writing, "I did not need the negative medical and community reaction bordering on abusive".

Said Friedman in response, "I don't blame the man.  If I saw this from 12,000 miles away, I think I'd be afraid to go to the place also."

Friedman agreed, and now he's saying he doesn't know whether he'll return to practice after his medical leave.  "I'm very tired. I've been overworking for the past several months. My blood pressure is dangerously high. There comes a point where you say 'enough'," he stated.

Healthcare Oversight Chairman Senator Frank Aguon, Jr. has been in communication with Friedman and Walde, and introduced a bill earlier this week in an attempt to prioritize Walde's license application.  "I think it's unfortunate that it's come to these turn of events.  I'm trying to do everything I possibly can to encourage him to reconsider his decision and perhaps getting an individual who can fill in his position in his absence," he said.

Torres was at the clinic this afternoon.  He says the closure of the Center would be devastating not only for Guam, but for the entire region.  "We should have one on Guam all the time so other island people can come to Guam," he said. 

Dr. Friedman says he's looking at a physician from Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles to come as soon as week after next, to ensure that patients will still be able to receive treatment.  In the meantime however, Friedman says that this episode reflects a deeper problem with healthcare on Guam.

He explained, "I think if Guam is going to try and attract competent doctors, they'd better change their style of doing things a little bit - both the medical community and some of the people."

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