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The LBJ Medic-gate — 2¢ from the faleumu

A Samoa News Editorial

The ongoing troubles at LBJ Medical Center came to a head when the pot boiled over — with broken promises apparently — and some of the nurses decided to get out from under the scalding water.

They went on strike in December 2022, and after making enough noise the then-LBJ CEO Moefaauo William Emmsely gave in to some of their demands, but not because he believed they had cause. My take on the situation was that he gave them their raises because no one likes their dirty linen hanging out there in public for all to see & smell.

I also think the government leaders were of the same mind as the then-CEO, but they had the common sense not to rant about it in public or in the CEO’s case, his hospital newsletter, calling the striking nurses, impatient and wrong in their actions.

A couple of steps forward and the CEO resigns after criticism from the Fono and the public for the manner in which he handled the striking nurses as well as the EMS transfer from LBJ to the Search and Rescue Agency.

In an aside: He still gets all his pay & ‘benes’ for the length of his contract, as he resigned and was not fired. Senator Togiola in February queried the board as to why Moefaauo was not fired, as he is the pule and ‘last man standing’ — but there was no clear answer from the board, other than that Moefaauo’s qualifications were not in question, it was the manner in which he conducted himself as LBJ CEO that was at askance.

Accordingly, if I read this one correctly: we, the public, are now paying a man a lot of money to do nothing because we objected to the way he did things when he was doing something?

A week or so later, the board continued to clean house. As a result: CEO Moefaauo is gone, Ombudsman Reverend Emau Amosa is gone, Procurement Manager Joe Langkilde is gone; HR director, Dr Akenese Nikolao is gone and Chief Financial Officer Fala Sualevai Lesa is gone.

It should also be noted that both Dr. Annie Fuivai and Dr. Reese Tuato’o resigned last month, after Dr. Shaumway was made Chief Medical Officer, a position for which both local doctors are said to have applied. However, neither doctor has made public their reasons for resigning.

I have heard the public buzz that the CMO position should be held by a local Samoan doctor or medical person — and that their resignations were in protest of an ‘outsider’ taking the position… but that’s only a rumor.

And now in the latest round of LBJ Medic-gate: the governor has taken a machete to the bushes — he’s decided not to renew the terms of both board members that are instrumental in making and implementing changes, no matter how painful, how difficult.

The move by the governor comes despite letters of support from medical professionals at LBJ to the government leaders supporting the reappoint of both board members based on the work they have been doing to clean house and get the hospital moving forward. 

Decisions have consequences.

By replacing Vice Chair Dr. Jean Anderson and Chairman Dr Malouamaua Tuiolosega, the governor has signaled that he does not support what the LBJ Board has done or the direction the board is moving — where ever it may lead.

A new CEO, a new CFO, a new Procurement Officer, a new Chief Medical Officer, a new Ombudsman, and a new HR director — to just name a few of the changes. You can’t get better than this when contemplating a new set of hands to bring our ’special’ hospital kicking & screaming into the 21st century, and hopefully shredding remnants of alleged corruption & inbreeding along the way.

However, I fear that there are ‘others’ that are merely waiting in the corridors ready to step up to the plate that’s now sitting in a vacuum ‘of doing nothing’ created by the governor flexing his muscles.

There is no doubt that the governor’s move to replace the board members is a political signal of “pule” — not of well being for the people, as he has said nothing about the changes — for or against; good or bad.

This is a play directly into the mindset that the LBJ board sits at the pleasure of the governor, because he appoints the members. They serve him, not the LBJ nor the people of American Samoa.

If this is the case — then the changes the board made were wrong, because they obviously didn’t check with the governor first. Why else would he replace the key members of the board that advocate change?

The changes are only right if the ‘pule’ mindset is set aside — and the governor leads by trusting the board he chose to guide LBJ along a health-based path.

Unfortunately with this move — removing the chair and vice-chair — the governor has chosen instead to play the role of gatekeeper instead of leader.

The people of American Samoa deserve changes to their hospital that are grounded in healthy choices and the concept of “tautua” — not the idea of pule — whose the boss — grounded in whose at the “top of the pile”.

I can’t help but wonder if in the next month or so we will see all the “gone” people once again occupying positions at the LBJ, including the doctors that resigned?

That’s my 2¢ from the faleumu…