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LBJ delays fee hikes until middle of January

The LBJ Medical Center has delayed the fee hikes until the middle of next month, to give the Fono and the administration time to come up with a financial package to assist the hospital, whose board chairman says LBJ reserves the right to implement the new fees if nothing changes in the financial picture for the government owned facility.

The fee hikes were due to go into effect Christmas Eve. However, Gov. Togiola Tulafono and the LBJ board and management met this week to discuss ways to resolve the hospital’s financial woes. Yesterday, LBJ board chairman Moananu Va issued an official statement about the delay.

“It is our… intent to delay the proposed increase until at least Jan. 14, 2012,” said Moananu. “If the necessary subsidies have not been received by that date or if our financial picture changes dramatically in the interim, we reserve the right to implement the proposed new fees at any time.”

(Congressman Faleomavaega Eni announced yesterday that Congress has approved funding for the U.S. Department of Interior which includes more than $22.7 million for ASG operations — which includes funding for LBJ. See separate story)

Moananu thanked the community, the governor and the Fono for the comments LBJ received regarding the proposed fee hike, adding that about 40 people attended Monday’s public hearing and about a dozen others submitted written comments.

“We heard two distinct messages,” said Moananu, adding that the first one seeks to delay the fees for twenty days until the Fono is back in session next month and has an opportunity to address this issue.

“We are willing to do so, but our dire financial position gives us very limited flexibility in this regard,” he pointed out. “We are already significantly behind in paying our vendors. We must receive the appropriate subsidy from ASG in order to delay the increase.”

(As of yesterday, Samoa News was unable to confirm if ASG has provided the subsidy for December.)

Once the Fono is in session, “we must have immediate consideration and approval of a supplemental appropriation of at least $4 million to allow us to pay all of those who have extended us credit,” he said. “We also must have a commitment from the Fono to find a workable, sustainable, reliable revenue stream for the long term stability of the Medical Center.”

Last week, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie submitted to the governor the proposed short and long term solutions submitted by the Fono to assist the hospital.

To get a quick cash infusion for LBJ, Gaoteote says a $3 million appropriation bill would be introduced using excess funds in the Workmen’s Compensation Account as the funding source and the Senate also plans to re-appropriate $1 million from Insurance Proceeds Account for the hospital. (See Samoa News story on Dec. 19, for more details.)

In the hospital statement, Moananu said the second message received from the public was that if an increase is necessary, it should be a smaller amount than is proposed.

“We understand the burden the proposed increase will cause in many households. We regret its necessity and magnitude,” he said. “The amount of an increase, if any, depends upon the total financial package available from the government.”

He then announced the delay of the fee hikes until next month.

At press time there was no official reaction from the governor’s office to the delay in the hikes.

See letter attaced