GMH gets 43 off-island nurses at up to $145 per hour, per nurse

Guam Memorial Hospital
Guam Memorial Hospital (PNC file photo)

Guam Memorial Hospital is getting a boost of nursing staff…with a price tag that might raise a few eyebrows.

Lillian Perez-Posadas, the hospital’s administrator, says 43 traveling registered nurses arrived on Guam Tuesday night.

Sixteen of the newly arrived nurses are ICU-level and have worked in COVID-care settings; the rest will working in hemodialysis, telemetry, and ER wards. In addition to those 43, there are also 3 traveling respiratory therapists supporting the Island.

The nurses are contracted through a hiring agency called NuWest based in the continental U.S.

The contract has GMH paying up to $145 per hour, per nurse.

But not all that money goes to nurses; it’s paid to the agency, which takes a portion for administrative costs, travel fees and lodging for the nurses, among other expenses, then pays nurses according to their specialty.

Perez-Posadas said they potentially can pay less than $145, however that is the cap they set with the agency.

The GMH Administrator says she knows the cost may ruffle a few feathers among the local nursing staff.

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“We’ve tried to get local nurses to come help us and they haven’t responsed to our call for whatever reason. And yes, internally … we as a government need to look at the salaries of the nurses and I’ve been saying that for many years. In order for us to recruit and retain nurses, we need to compensate them accordingly. It’s really a profession that requires so many critical thinking skills. They need to know pathophysiology, the pharmaceutical side, and the technological things they need to deal with. They’re constantly on their feet and they need to respond quickly,” Perez-Posadas said.

She added that what it comes down to is the quality of patient care GMH can provide.

And while the cost may sound steep, she says it’s the reality of having a nursing shortage in the middle of a health crisis:

“We’re dealing with really, really sick individuals. So patient safety is a really critical factor and we have to make sure we have the nurses and to help the nurses who’ve been doing this since March…they’re exhausted, they haven’t had time off,” Perez-Posadas said.

The FEMA-approved Department of Defense staff that came in earlier this month were only deployed to Guam for 30 days and Perez-Posadas says they’re gradually beginning their exit on September 30.

She says the 35 traveling nurses were needed to ensure there’s no gap in care for GMH patients, particularly those on ventilators.

There have been 21 DoD active duty medical staff on island since early September through an approved staffing contract by FEMA.

Charles Esteves, the Office of Civil Defense administrator, confirmed with PNC that they have not requested an extension of these military personnel, or for Phase Two of the staffing plan, as GMH was able to get contracted medical personnel.

Esteves says the DoD staff were always a temporary and intermediate solution until GMH could get a contract in place for longer term staffing.

As for the (up to) $145 per hour cost for the current contingent of traveling nurses, GovGuam has to pay the amount upfront but Perez-Posadas said they will be requesting assistance from FEMA. If approved, FEMA would reimburse the government 75% of the cost.

Perez-Posadas confirmed that GMH contracted the nurses for 13 weeks.