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State of emergency hits GMH lab

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - Millions of dollars in debt, the Guam Memorial Hospital is facing credit holds from vendors to every department. GMH's lab, which plays a crucial role in helping doctors make diagnoses, is feeling a major crunch and it's the patients that end up suffering. 

The staggering debt at the island's only public hospital is affecting every facet of the agency, and at the GMH lab credit holds from various vendors are preventing tests that are often considered essential. According to GMH spokesperson Connor Murphy, the hospital can't do CO2 testing or CK mass B tests, which are used to detect heart attacks. 

He explained, "Our vendors for the labs have taken us on and off hold for the past few weeks now so it affects the orders of supplies coming in that the lab needs to do its test. But what the lab does if they don't have the supplies to do one particular test they try and do another test that tries to accomplish the same result."

But, as president of the Guam Medical Association Dr. Thomas Sheih explained, there are serious risks when doctors are forced to make a diagnosis off of an alternative test. "We always want to use the first line. If a doctor makes a recommendation to use this particular test then we want to do that. If we go to a secondary or tertiary test to try and come around and make a diagnosis then the diagnosis may be wrong or the diagnosis may be delayed," he said.

And the problem at GMH doesn't just affect patients. The Guam Police Department uses the hospital's lab to conduct drug abuse tests, as Murphy said, "If need be, we can send it out to our reference lab in Hawaii or we could also freeze the samples to test when the supplies are available."

Dr. Sheih says that the financial problems at GMH will be hard to fix.  Like the governor, the Medical Association declared a state of emergency at GMH and is urging the Governor Felix Camacho and Governor-elect Eddie calvoCwork immediately to fully fund healthcare.

In the meantime, Murphy says GMH is receiving about $1 million in reprogrammed compact impact money, and luckily the lab is getting a big chunk of that so it can get back on track. "So they're going to be getting some supplies out of that, and right now we're just taking it day-by-day to do the best we can each day, keep our heads above water while we deal with this current cash crunch."

The hospital is also hoping to get its hand on a loan by December 21. The Guam Economic Development Authority issued the request for proposal, seeking bidders to offer a $25 million loan last Friday. Those bids are due tomorrow. That money is supposed to be paid back using money from the tobacco tax through the Healthy Futures Fund.

But GovGuam is currently two months and $404,000 behind on their Healthy Futures Fund payments.

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