Legislature health chair prioritizes nurse pay increase for GMH

Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

Bill No. 42-36 (COR) — “The GMHA Nurse Recruitment and Retention Act of 2021 —authored by Health Oversight Chair, Speaker Therese Terlaje and co-sponsored by Senator Joe San Agustin, had its public hearing Wednesday under the Committee on Appropriations.

The measure proposes to address perennial nursing shortages at Guam Memorial Hospital Authority (GMHA) which have impacted the hospital’s ability to maximize bed capacity in its ICU, Emergency, and Clinical Areas.

Recently, the GMHA Board of Trustees explored increasing the 16% differential pay for nurses to 22% in order to achieve parity at Guam Memorial Hospital with competing nursing salaries on and off-island. However, additional funding was needed to implement this recruitment and retention strategy.

The Chairperson of the GMH Board estimated that approximately $827,000 is needed annually to increase the 16% differential pay for RN and LPNs to 22%. Unlike other nurse pay bills, Bill 42-36 fully funds this increase.

The measure proposes to redirect a portion of the GRMC Annual Community Contribution mandated by the terms of their Qualifying Certificate (QC) for the sole purpose of increasing the nursing differential pay at GMH. The terms of the QC state that community contributions may benefit healthcare with a priority to GMH and DPHSS.

GEDA would also retain $200,000 annually from the GRMC community contribution, which could still be disbursed to various non-profits on-island through the Qualifying Certificate Community Contribution Grant Program. The discretion of these funds would fall under the purview of GEDA.

“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.

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.

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.

“Bill 42-36 provides a 15-year funding bridge for the government of Guam and GMH to build a more sustainable model for patient care which starts with keeping local nurses on Guam,” stated Speaker Terlaje.

(Speaker Therese Terlaje News Release)