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Back Opinion Doctor’s Notes A Christmas carol

A Christmas carol

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IT CAME upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old. So long anticipated – 27 years to be exact – the mere notion of Guam Memorial Hospital accreditation seemed but a hopeless yuletide lullaby.

Yet that fantastic, melodious thought of national certification for safe patient care and medical competency at the Guam Memorial Hospital was a joyous reality as our little island celebrated Christmas last year. Accreditation by The Joint Commission (TJC) at our island’s only civilian hospital was more than good news – it was a revelation. Led by our local nurses and a dedicated Board of Trustees, GMH proved Guam could meet the American standard for hospital care.

For so long, many doubted it would ever happen. Several Guam governors and representatives were so dubious of GMH that they would recommend people leave the island if they were ever to get really sick. Indeed, too many of our politicians would conspicuously leave Guam whenever they would get ill. Accreditation from TJC was the only concrete way our island’s hospital could demonstrate a commitment to patients and their families to doing the right things and doing them well. TJC accreditation meant Guam’s people didn’t need to rely on some public information officer’s opinion about hospital safety.

During the past 50 years, The Joint Commission's accreditation programs have contributed to the high quality of care Americans enjoy today, in areas ranging from control of infections to reducing deaths from chemical, electrical and fire-related hazards. Accreditation is, at its heart, a risk-reduction strategy seeking to maximize good patient care while minimizing medical errors.

Several highly publicized problems at GMH have recently shaken the community’s confidence in our island’s hospital. Patients and their families have asked me earnestly if I think GMH is safe. Because of the continuous evaluation and improvement process that is TJC accreditation, I can say without equivocation that GMH is safer today than it has ever been. That being said, GMH has much room for improvement. TJC accreditation ensures what is being done at our hospital has been scrutinized and medical protocols are in place to protect patients’ lives.

GMH, however, does not have the capability or medical expertise to do things many people may find necessary. GMH, under almost all circumstances, cannot offer life-saving angioplasty or open-heart surgery. GMH cannot offer most joint replacement operations or organ replacement surgery. GMH does not have enough regular medical or ICU beds to give all needy patients refuge on most busy nights. GMH is a government hospital mandated to provide care for all island patients, regardless of their ability to pay. This is not an excuse, just a statement of fact. The hospital’s mission statement calls for it to provide excellent medical care to the people of Guam. Actually, what the new GMH mission statement says not so poetically is “to provide quality care in a safe environment.”

What GMH is not called to do is provide refuge for beggars. GMH is not a dumping ground for political refugees. GMH cannot afford life-saving drugs or critical medical services because the hospital administration has cowardly refused to remove the 200 non-critical employee positions that drain more than $15 million away from safe patient care.

As the GMH administration struggles to find the testicular fortitude to pay only for necessary personnel, the Ghost of GMH Yet to Come harrows us with dire visions of our hospital unaccredited and our own neglected and untended graves. The people of Guam must demand our government fund a safe hospital so we may avoid the “shadows of what may be.”

To those who don’t believe in the value of accreditation, to those Scrooges who stubbornly refuse to let go of the hurtful, political patronage of the past, I say, “Bah Humbug!”

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