By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Peter R. Sgro was the man, whom a decade ago had this crazy dream to build another hospital, then turned that vision into the Guam Regional Medical City. No one cared at first. Most everyone thought it was a distant fantasy. The business community couldn’t see. But he did.
And that visionary thinker and work horse was in charge of Guam Memorial Hospital’s development strategy until Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero let him go this year.
GMH has been on the precipice of system failure in almost every way imaginable. For the past three years it has lacked the fiscal wherewithal to pay its employees; that monumental failure belonging to two legislatures mired in politics and credit mongering. The island’s only public civilian hospital provides emergency care, intensive care, pediatrics care, maternity and delivery of babies, and little else. It can provide services that are sure to help make the hospital enough money to pay for its function, but it lacks the facilities, equipment, and strategic changes needed to start and sustain those services. When Mr. Sgro first envisioned a new civilian hospital for Guam, GMH was unaccredited. It is no stroke of irony that former Gov. Eddie Calvo hired him to lead its strategic development, when GMH lost its accreditation a couple years ago.
He worked alongside Benita Manglona, the financial guru, who pulled off the impossible and earned the rebasing of Medicare rates for GMH, among other significant achievements. The new rates were rebased this past January, made retroactive to Fiscal Year 2014, and mean millions more in hospital revenue each year. She basically saved GMH from financial ruin.
But Ms. Manglona’s efforts alone are heroic only to this day and age. It’s just a matter of time before GMH outdates its function and existence. It needs to modernize in a way, where its outpatient services can pay for the rest of its operation. These services need to be a reflection of the people’s basest medical needs against the most prevalent threats to our health now and through the foreseeable future: heart disease, cancer, diabetes.
That was the hospital Mr. Sgro envisioned over a decade ago that eventually became GRMC. The new hospital, though it has its flaws and had a long bout of growing pains, provides money-making services that has kept families together instead of farming patients off island for care. Most importantly, the new hospital has saved lives, where the difference hung in the balance of emergency care closer to the population base, or critical attention to a complication that couldn’t wait for a medical evacuation to an off-island center of care. Within a year of opening, GRMC gained accreditation and maintains it to this day.
It’s now a decade later. Of the two civilian hospitals standing, only the one Mr. Sgro envisioned and helped to model still holds accreditation. It is, arguably, more financially viable than the public hospital, which receives some public subsidies at the least. And while GRMC was supposed to be the answer to the growing demand for medical care on island and for the region, the population is getting sicker faster. We’ve outpaced both hospitals’s capacity. This market, Mr. Sgro surmised as early as 2014, has been poised for the opening of one, maybe two more hospitals.
Mr. Sgro began a think group, much like the Guam Hospital Development Foundation he began a decade ago that led to GRMC, involving veterans. He found financial solutions to build a hospital that would serve the veterans community amid the abortion of a joke that is government-sponsored veterans care. He then laid the groundwork for talks on another type of specialty hospital, perhaps for the care of women and children, he thought.
Both ideas he put on hold when Mr. Calvo called him a couple years ago to help GMH and the Hospital Modernization Program Mr. Calvo was trying desperately to push through the Guam Legislature.
The need for another hospital, or for specialty hospitals, is part of an overall vision of quality medical care that includes the continual existence of GMH. That’s why Mr. Sgro was sent to GMH. To modernize it. To carry out a plan for modernization that will turn it into a centers of excellence for cardiac, cancer, and diabetic care with a state of the art system of medical technology that leads in research and attracts doctors from an international community.
That vision is nowhere in sight these days. Shortly into her administration, Ms. Leon Guerrero let Mr. Sgro go. Perhaps for all her talk about healthcare on this island, she couldn’t see what a dreamer saw. And she certainly has shown that she can’t do what a doer did.
Hopefully Mr. Sgro gets back to his drawing board on those dreams he had for Guam and builds us those hospitals before Ms. Leon Guerrero tanks the only public one we have.