Aussie govt minister calls Am Samoa’s new hospital an “important endeavor” for the region
Washington, D.C — In response to a letter from Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata, Australian Minister for the Pacific Sen. Zed Seselja commended her for her “commitment to establishing a new hospital for the people of American Samoa,” and went on to say. “I agree it is a very important endeavor and will be a welcome addition to the network of medical facilities across the region.”
For her part, Amata welcomed Seselja’s encouragement and said she envisioned the new hospital taking some pressure off Sydney serving as a referral center for island patients needing specialized treatment. “As plans develop,” she said, “I look forward to ASG working with Australia to integrate American Samoa into the region’s network of medical facilities.”
Three years ago, at Amata’s request, Congress commissioned a GAO study that gave a failing grade to the facilities of American Samoa's half-century-old Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center. That study found that the project could reach $900 million and take up to 10 years to complete depending on several alternatives. Amata has been successful in requesting $2.5 million for initial planning and design in this year's Interior budget, pending in the appropriations pipeline. Any additional funds beginning in Fiscal Year 2022 depend upon final passage of a new stimulus, which is under discussion in Washington.
The exchange of letters followed a teleconference briefing Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus Chairman Ed Case (D-HI) arranged with Seselja on Australian initiatives in the region in the wake of by the new AUKUS Indo-Pacific security pact. This agreement among Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. includes cooperation measures for the Pacific region. Amata describes American Samoa as an anchor in the South Pacific for projection of U.S. “soft power” into the region and sees as a beacon a new hospital with modern capabilities that prioritizes telehealth.
In his reply, Senator Seselja said, “Our discussion reflected the extensive cooperation between our countries in the Pacific Islands region, which will be further augmented through our new AUKUS partnership” and noted that Australia’s High Commission in Apia is accredited to American Samoa, and Australia’s Department of Home Affairs similarly maintains contact with American Samoa as a member of the Pacific Immigration Development Community.
Amata believes that U.S. federal agencies with a footprint in American Samoa should be part of the funding, including the Departments of Interior, Veterans’ Affairs and Defense.
“While Interior has primary federal responsibility for American Samoa,” she explained, “the VA already spends millions of dollars yearly flying military retirees to Honolulu for necessary checkups and treatment, which is money better spent here. At the same time, the Defense Department is ramping up its activities in the region and we are prepared to host an expanded presence here.”