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Cross section of community rejects Speaker Terlaje's nurse pay bill

By Eric Rosario

The common consensus among various people who testified today on Speaker Therese Terlaje's bill to increase nurse pay at Guam Memorial Hospital was that it was unfair, and they opposed it.

Bill No. 42-36 will, for the remaining 15 years of the GRMC qualifying certificate with Guam Economic Development Authority, pull more than $800,000 annually from other non-profits and programs and give that money to GMH. That money, in turn, would be used to fund an increase in GMH nurse differential pay from 16 percent to 22 percent.

GMH management and board members expressed their concern that the bill does not provide a viable or reliable funding source.

"The QC funding source may not be a consistent, practical, secure or viable funding stream of cash," the GMH testimony reads. "If in the event there is no funding available from this QC source to support the proposed 22% differential pay for the GMHA nurses, will the inability to pay the mandated differential pay lead to a class action lawsuit against the GMHA?"

"Your bill proposes to fund the 16% differential pay for GMHA nurses only," GRMC vice president Francis Santos wrote in his testimony opposing the bill to Ms. Terlaje. "How do you explain and justify to the remaining 65.4% of the entire nursing community that only GMHA nurses deserve differential pay? How do you and the 36th Guam Legislature propose to fund differential pay or any other special pay for all the other nurses in our community, private and government alike?"

Mr. Santos provided Ms. Terlaje a table of information taken from the Guam Board of Nurse Examiners showing that of the 965 active licensed nurses on Guam, only 334 work at GMH.

"Hard to fill positions in critical areas is not only at GMHA ICU and Hemodialysis," registered nurse and Health Services of the Pacific president Ruth Gurusamy stated in her testimony opposing the bill. "The nursing shortage in critical positions exists throughout nursing in Guam in the public and private sector."

A registered nurse who works at GMH, Isabel Flores, who left a $90,000 nursing job in southern California to move back to Guam for a $55,000 job at HSP, then left the private sector for a $36,000 job at GMH, said she supports any bill that will pay GMH nurses what they are worth.

"I appreciate the intent of this bill to increase our differential pay and give us some marginal increase in our salaries, and I thank you for opening up the conversation about nursing salaries with this legislation," Ms. Flores said.

While Ms. Terlaje's bill increases the differential rate of pay for GMH nurses, it does not address pay discrepancies for the government's other nurses, and it also does not come anywhere close to raising the rate of pay to competitive standards nationally.

Another bill, 62-36 by Sen. Mary Torres, will fund nursing pay increases for all government nurses, or 442 out of the total 965 nurses islandwide to a pay rate commensurate with national competitive standards.

“With the general fund tracking $100 Million below projections for this fiscal year and the 2022 Executive Budget Request proposing zero dollars ($0) from the General Fund for GMH, it is imperative that a tangible and stable source of funds is identified for Nurse Pay, to shore up gaps in patient care while long-term solutions to expand recruitment and retention are planned and executed,” said Speaker Terlaje.

The Speaker's office also noted the passage of Ms. Torres's Nurse Licensure Compact bill, and how the government must act to increase pay for nurses so that they do not begin to take advantage of the compact and leave for so-called greener pastures.

"It was also clear during discussions on the Nurse Licensure Compact that improving pay and the work environment for nurses needed to be addressed concurrently with the implementation of the Compact to stave off potential out-migration of nurses," stated a news release from Ms. Terlaje's office. "While this bill does not raise wages for all nurses on island, it does prioritize GMH and ensures there is a viable funding source to pay for this long overdue increase. It gives GMH more tools and is a step in the right direction towards recruitment and retention of nurses which is sorely needed to find real solutions to our nursing shortage."

Several others testified against Ms. Terlaje's bill, including farmer Ernie Wusstig, the president of the Guam Women's Chamber of Commerce, the executive director of Junior Achievement, the chairwoman of the Tourism Education Council, and the founder of Guahan Sustainable. Mr. Wusstig and these organizations receive the grant funding from the GRMC QC community contribution fund. If Ms. Terlaje's bill becomes law, that money no longer will be available to these organizations and to Mr. Wusstig.

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