GRMC secures 2nd heart surgeon as it looks to expand specialized services

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Guam – The Guam Regional Medical City may be shutting down some departments, but according to Guam’s only private hospital, that only means more room for growth in other areas of specialized care. In fact, they are already eyeing a second cardiothoracic surgeon to augment and eventually take over the reins from the hospital’s heart program.

It was an unexpected announcement. The suspension of two hospital services at the relatively new Guam Regional Medical City: Obstetrics and Pediatrics. So what does this mean for expectant mothers and children, especially those living in the northern part of Guam where GRMC is located?

“So that includes obstetrics and pediatrics. Our emergency room will still be seeing all comers that come through but then if a patient needs to be admitted for these services after that transition is made with obstetrics and pediatrics in particular then they will have to be transferred to [the Guam Memorial Hospital],” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Felix Cabrera.

To be clear, GRMC says they will not be turning patients away. So if a patient needs emergency services, pregnant or otherwise, and the closest hospital is GRMC, they will still accept patients who come through their doors.

“The term is to treat and stabilize and that’s where we meet the EMTALA requirement, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, and then once we’ve achieved that and the patient is at that condition and if it warrants them being admitted then at that point we would seek the transfer to GMH,” said Dr. Cabrera.

As the saying goes, when one door shuts, another one opens. And that’s exactly what GRMC will be doing. Vice President of Corporate Affairs Eric Plinske says plans are in place to expand specialized services once the suspension of obstetrics and pediatrics is effective by the end of this year.

In fact, the low volume of patients being seen in these departments is the reason behind the closures.

“There just wasn’t enough volume. Best way I can explain it is using an example. Yesterday morning at 8 a.m., we do a bed census to find out where all our admitted patients are. So in the adult specialized units which is called medical telemetry where the heart patients are at, medical surgical, ICU, all of these units were full,” explains Plinske. “Meanwhile down in the emergency room we had seven patients admitted waiting for telemetry or surgical beds … at the same time in the maternity unit where we have 24 beds, 14 to15 of those beds are empty.”

Meanwhile, GRMC continues to expand specialized care. Last month, they brought in a rheumatologist. The month before, they revived their open heart program on a limited basis. Next month, they will bring in another cohort with cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Noel Concepcion for more open heart surgeries. And soon, GRMC will have a second cardiothoracic surgeon.

“We’ve actually secured that next surgeon who’s a young cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Joan Benitez. She did her fellowship training at Cleveland Clinic–extremely qualified, extremely well trained. In fact she was one of the surgeons who participated in and assisted with Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart transplant, and so good enough for the vice president of the United States I think more than good enough for Guam,” added Cabrera.

GMH CEO Peter John Camacho says services at GMH will not be disrupted and that they will continue to provide care to all mothers and children who walk through their doors.