Guam Economic Development Authority administrator Melanie Mendiola compared the repossession of the island’s only public hospital to a war, although this is unlikely, as she answered questions from members of the the Legislative Assembly of Guam on what might happen if the government were unable to make payments as part of a measure to fund a “21st century” health center.
Mendiola said payment plans would usually be made if there were any difficulties paying before legal action took place. And while there would likely be a contractual clause placing a lien on a new hospital facility if payment was not made, that is unlikely to happen, she said.
“A worst-case scenario like this, to me, equates to a world war – a war-type situation,” Mendiola said, stumbling briefly when answering questions from Senator Sabina Perez. “Critical infrastructure is critical infrastructure, period. … Yes, there are difficulties, and the difficulties are usually dealt with.
Thursday marked the second day that lawmakers discussed Bill 121-36, which proposes a funding plan for the construction of new facilities for the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, the Department of Public Health and Human Services and Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center through a lease / sale-leaseback arrangement.
The measure was initially discussed in the legislative session in July, but was referred to committee after tabling numerous amendments. Following another public hearing later in the month, Bill 121 is now part of the measures discussed in this session.
The total cost of building the health care facilities was initially estimated at around $ 1 billion, with a new hospital at around $ 800 million, including a 10% cost increase.
To fund rent payments under the lease and sale-leaseback, Bill 121 proposes to pledge $ 35 million of the early repayment of the earned income tax credit in fiscal year 2022, 35 millions of dollars from the General Fund thereafter, federal funds and other funding options.
The 2022 Fiscal Finance Act also created a fund to set aside $ 35 million in EITC reimbursements for the 21st century healthcare facility.
Can ARP money be used?
Lawmakers voiced several concerns and inquiries during their discussion of the measure with Guam government finance officials. The expression “put the cart before the horse” was sometimes used.
It is not yet clear how the EITC funding will flow to Guam, and no license with the Department of Defense has been finalized for the use of Eagles Field, a federal property that is expected to be the site of the center. health. Mendiola said on Thursday the license would come in October. The Defense Ministry vowed to clean up the site before the transfer, she added later.
Additionally, Administration Department director Edward Birn said on Wednesday that local authorities were still awaiting confirmation that $ 300 million in US bailout funding could be used to help fund the health center, as the governor wishes.
The question was posed to the US Treasury Department during the governor’s visit to Washington, DC in August. Treasury officials said they would review and respond to it, according to Birn.
“And we followed him. The Treasury, to give them their due, has a lot of questions after them. And it’s a question they said no one else asked. so am not surprised that we don’t have an answer yet, ”Birn said on Wednesday. “There may be a follow-up in early November.”
Guam is also awaiting a response to a request for funding to participate in a charrette with the Army Corps of Engineers to design the new health care center. However, Mendiola said on Wednesday that the charrette can run concurrently with preliminary work and studies, and Bill 121 can be passed while the charrette is underway.
A cart is a meeting where all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions.
Senator Frank Blas Jr. said Thursday that the problem isn’t that lawmakers don’t want to build a new hospital.
“It’s, ‘are we ready to be able to do this?’ And that’s the concern I have, ”Blas said.
When Senator Clynton Ridgell asked what the consequences would be if the bill was not passed now, GMHA administrator Lillian Perez-Posadas said costs would not come down any longer officials would wait.
“The costs will continue to rise. And so the end game is that it is an investment… it will really improve the health services on the island and it can become a regional facility,” Perez-Posadas said, adding that the new health center will also open up research opportunities.
She said maybe the first phase of construction could be the public health lab, then the hospital, then other facilities.
Responding to the same question, Mendiola said that every legislature, as far back as she can remember, has talked about building a new hospital.
“It would be great if it could be done today. Earlier I mentioned the market conditions, now is a good time to come out in the market. But other than that, there is funding from governor’s commitment but he can’t three hundred million (dollars) aren’t going to build a new hospital at the end of the day, “Mendiola said.” So we have that access to that money today. very reliable access to that money. think that dealing with this today is something you can use to leverage your grant applications. ”
Committing local money will give a stronger foundation when seeking federal funds for more help, and Mendiola said this was the main reason to pass the bill today rather than “giving a kick in the box “.
Concluding his thoughts, Ridgell said he believed finding a funding mechanism was “the horse that will pull the cart all the way.”
Lawmakers put the bill on the reading book with the recommendation of Committee of the Whole.