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Proposal to cut medical services for DepCor has many concerned about prison's fate

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The end to the government financial crisis is nowhere in sight. Agencies across the board are trying to find ways to cut costs to stay afloat. For the Guam Memorial Hospital, cutting clinical services at the Department of Corrections is a proposal that would save them millions. But Guam's chief law officer says doing so could come with an even greater expense.

$1.2 million dollars past due and counting is how much DOC owes the hospital for its services. But, it's an unpaid bill the hospital can't afford. During a recent GMH board meeting, members announced a proposal to eliminate its services at DepCor. GMH's CFO, Benita Manglona, says DOC's owes them from October 2017 to February 2018 for the clinic, plus $1 million for inpatient services.

She told KUAM News, "If there's an emergency they can send them here. We'll take care of them."

But after receiving word about the proposal, the AG's Office issued a letter advising GMH not to terminate the MOU between the two entities in order to fulfill the remaining Consent Decree orders issued by the federal government, stating, "I fully acknowledge the Board's financial situation. However, revoking the MOU may further exacerbate the financial crisis of our territory."

The news is worrisome to DOC as well says Deputy Director Kate Baltazar, who commented, "Pulling back the medical clinic contract could mean that we slide right back into receivership. The impetus for us not being in receivership and having that twenty-six year consent decree being lifted was because we were able to provide adequate and excellent medical care for those in our custody and just the fact that that might not longer be an option for us is very concerning."

And while public safety chair Senator Telena Nelson has her concerns, the choice she says is within GMH's purview, adding, "Whether it's the wisest decision to take away the services before the consent decree, that's their judgment call to make. Perhaps, I don't agree with it but..."

Baltazar says that she and Director Tony Lamorena are trying to work with GMH officials to salvage their agreement. Their inability to pay, a result of the unfilled $3.3 million appropriation needed from the legislature.

But eliminating the clinic and having prisoners brought to the hospital, would only increase costs on both sides. "Well, while that might seem a feasible solution from the outside looking in, truly that would cost the government ten, ten times more. We're talking chronic care patients, patients who require regular follow ups, patients who need that routine care on a regular basis, to have to transport those individuals every day, three times a day just to get medication for example for their chronic illnesses would be very, very cumbersome. Not only on the transport side, but clearly also on the Guam Memorial side, that will be very, very daunting for them as they will soon quickly learn," Baltazar said.

DepCor already trying to save money by having assistance provided by the Guam Police Department. While GPD officers are trained differently than corrections officers, they do help with operations such as visitation and perimeter security.

But ultimately they are hoping that GMH will not cut ties, with Baltazar saying, "The doctors and nursing staff at the DOC/GMH clinic have been fantastic so we are hoping that it doesn't come to that. Truly it would not be in the best interest certainly for the Government of Guam, the taxpayers, and those patients who are in our custody. "

And while the Guam Memorial Hospital currently does not have a response to the AG's letter, they will be hard pressed to continue clinic services without any appropriation.

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