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Major concern about Medical Referral Office

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - At least one Guam resident is sharing his negative experience with the Guam Medical Referral Office, after he traveled thousands of miles for open heart surgery.

"The five cardiologists I met found out that I had an aneurysm of the heart," recalled Roland Blas.  "My aortic valve was about to burst and that my leaking valve over 30 years, I had this problem since I was 5 years old, only to find out that it was leaking too much, that it was leaking extremely. They had to replace that with an animal valve, which was a cow valve."  What was supposed to be a simple procedure turned out to be a nightmare for the local resident.

Blas says he received the assistance of the Guam Medical Referral Office to help him get to Los Angeles to receive open heart surgery...and evidently the surgeon never knew he was there.  He continued, "I had to wait because the surgeon to open my heart was on vacation, and I was getting upset already and the nurse said they cannot give me any date, 'They cannot tell you or promise you because we didn't even know that you're here'."

Blas scrutinized the local Medical Office for not giving full details of what to expect before he traveled to LA. He says throughout his three-week wait for surgery, he was only informed in after leaving Guam of the thousand of dollars he would have to fork-out for medication and oxygen.

"So she said, 'Mr. Blas, you would have to pay up front about $4,000', now I'm upset because why am I being told this when I am thousands of miles away?" he remembered angrily.  "I think that the big change that the office needs to do is do the orientation here on Guam."

However, Governor's Deputy Chief of Staff Shawn Gumataotao defends the steps taken by the Guam Medical Referral Office. He says they have a checklist that every patient uses to ensure they are squared away before leaving the island.  "It's the checklist that would be necessary for them so that when we do choose to utilize the services they are able to go there and get exactly what they need," he detailed.

"It's really straightforward and clear of the process, and they signoff on it when they leave here acknowledging that they understand the rules and what is required of them in terms of getting a referral and the utilizing of our Guam Medical Referral Office."

While the Office could not discuss any specifics about Blas' concerns, they do say that they take every complaint that comes through their office seriously. Gumataotao adds that they have been improving the procedures since offering patient surveys to get feedback from residents.

But despite the explanation, Blas feels that more needs to be done to better the services before a life is actually lost.  "I thank God that my surgery was successful and I've been hearing a lot of complaints from other patients, but it seems like nobody wants to speak out because everyone there is stressed out, we're all there for medical attention," he told KUAM News.

Hoping his complaint does not fall on deaf ears, Blas has also sent a detailed list of his concerns with the Medical Office to the governor and lieutenant governor, as well as the chairperson of the Oversight Committee on Public Health.

Of note is that the services the various medical referral offices provide differ from patient to patient. Guam has medical referral offices in Hawaii, Manila and California.

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