GMH still short of nurses; challenges continue in recruiting and retaining nurses

Guam Memorial Hospital (PNC file photo)

With a steady increase in COVID-related hospitalizations at Guam Memorial Hospital, GMH’s long-time nursing shortage has been thrust into the spotlight.

“Challenging”… that’s how GMH administrator Lillian Perez-Posadas describes the nursing situation at GMH as the island’s designated COVID-hospital continues to fight the uphill battle of more virus-related admissions.

But the hospital’s administrator says it’s not just COVID-patients, nursing shortages are affecting very department at GMH.

And even with some 50 off-island traveling nurse staff supporting the hospital, local nurses leaving is exacerbating the shortage.

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“Some have quit, some have gone off-island, some have transferred to another government agency or even a private clinic. And then those who were ready to retire decided to retire,” Perez-Posadas said.

She says out of their 300-some nursing staff, 22 have left GMH since the pandemic began in March.

Perez-Posadas says GMH is continuously trying to recruit and retain nurses, including working with the UOG program.

“Many of them are still graduate nurses, they have that permit to work as a graduate nurse and they have to work with a seasoned nurse. Of the 14, 5 of them have passed the NCLEX exam. So, that’s good news. They’re now official staff nurses,” Perez-Posadas said.

As for long term solutions to the issue, there is one major hurdle — THE PAY!

“Hawaii and California are who we lose a lot of our nurses to…they’re paying $45 or $50-something per hour for nurses. We’re not anywhere near that!” Perez-Posadas said.

Perez-Posadas says entry-level nurses on Guam make $17 per hour and someone with 2 years experience and their bachelor’s degree, they’re getting $21.05 per hour.

She says they’ve been advocating for GovGuam to reevaluate nurse salaries on island and to acknowledge the difference in hospital nursing versus public health or school nurses.

“The pathophysiology that you need to know as a nurse? Everything! … as far as what’s going on medically with the patient, the laboratory results, what’s normal and not normal. As far as pharmaceuticals…knowing which medicines to administer and what dose. And then, being able to act very quickly as a patient’s condition changes,” the GMH administrator said.

Perez-Posadas says within the hospital itself they’ve put in place incentives and differential pay to try to keep people around.

While they continue trying to recruit nurses from abroad from places like the Philippines, she says that process has its own challenges too with immigration.

Ultimately, she says this is a local issue that has to be tackled from the ground up.

“From our perspective, we’re looking at starting at an early stage, like middle school or high school…really making the young people be more aware and see the profession of nursing as something they would like to aspire to become,” Perez-Posadas said.

She added: “(I’d like) For the young people to have an interest in becoming a nurse. Pursue that track because it’s a guaranteed job.”