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Guam's medical community divided

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Guam's only civilian hospital - in jeopardy of losing accreditation it received less than a year ago for $6.5 million dollars - now has a new management team in place to ensure it's not business as usual. But one physician believes the changing faces in management are just the first step in the right direction toward a sweeping change in patient care.

And while he'd hoped to be a part of the change by sitting on the Guam Board of Medical Examiners, there's growing opposition to his nomination.

A group of doctors and nurses plan to meet at the hospital this evening, determined to see the governor's nomination of Dr. Sam Friedman to the GBME withdrawn. Dr. Friedman, an oncologist, has always been outspoken, but in recent weeks he's been more vocal - especially about what's been going on at the Guam Memorial Hospital. "There's a lot of bad medicine going on there that's years out of date and that would be very easy to bring up to standards," he stated.

During a confirmation hearing before lawmakers last Friday, Friedman said patients are dying needlessly at the hospital. He specifically spoke of an incident that occurred two months ago when a 41-year-old woman was improperly treated during her pregnancy and as a result died while in labor at the hospital. The incident, the doctor says, is one of many that have been swept under the rug.

"If no one is going to learn from mistakes, how do you expect to improve patient care?" he said. "The other part is the doctors - where the same things happen. Where if you're one of the boys it gets buried and if you're not one of the boys the most minutiae of garbage gets dragged out for months and Dr. [Jerone] Landstrom can speak to you about this."

He continued, "Get me a clearance from Mr. [GMH interim administrator Rey] Vega or whoever it happens to be and I will give you line and verse of the patients, what happened, who the doctor was, etc., etc. Then we'll see if I'm making stuff up."

Dr. Thomas Shieh said of the statement, "It was really uncalled for. I think it was irresponsible, careless for him to say that doctors are killing patients." He has taken issue with Friedman's comments - so much so he wants the governor to withdraw the oncologist's nomination to the GBME.

Shieh added, "I think there's a good peer review process at GMH that we follow and majority of our doctors here are very compassionate and caring." Dr. Shieh believes Dr. Friedman's comments have created an unnecessary sense of panic within the community about the hospital and contends that changes and improvements are occurring at GMH.

"I would certainly encourage Dr. Friedman to focus on the happier side of life rather than focusing on such negativity; that's not going to help. For somebody to wants to sit on the Board of Medical Examiners, he needs to rise above that. He needs to rise above the words he chooses to use and the attacks he chooses to use," said Shieh.

Dr. Shieh says the hospital may have settled a dozen cases in the last five years, but he contends medical malpractice and patients dying from complications is the norm at even the best medical facilities across the nation. "Patients die at other hospitals of complications, but not because doctors are killing patients," he explained. "There's a big difference between killing someone and somebody dying of complications. There's a big, big difference."

But despite the criticism from some of his colleagues, Dr. Friedman isn't backing down or apologizing for his statements, saying patient care must be improved. That's why he is hoping to sit on the Guam Board of Medical Examiners to help bring about the change that he contends is so desperately needed.

Said Friedman, "I could back up everything I've said and then some. If the people of Guam are satisfied with the medical care that they receive at the Guam Memorial Hospital please, let them continue to do so.

While Shieh and other physicians and nurses get together tonight to discuss Friedman's comments and urge the governor to withdraw his nomination, Healthcare Committee oversight chair Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. sent a letter to Vega today, demanding for answers on claims about a preventable death of a woman in labor at GMH two months ago. 

The hospital, as KUAM News has reported previously, is looking into the claims.

- Dr. Friedman's "Cancer Talk" article

- Sen. Dennis Rodriguez's letter to Rey Vega

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