UPDATE: 49 COVID hospitalizations at GMH; 10 on ventilators as FEMA medical personnel arrive

Guam Memorial Hospital
Guam Memorial Hospital (PNC file photo)

The first of the DoD medical personnel approved to support Guam’s COVID response have arrived on island, with more expected Thursday night.

With Guam Memorial Hospital confirming 49 hospitalized patients admitted for COVID-treatment as of Friday morning, with 12 people in the ICU, 10 of whom are on ventilators, the DoD practitioners are wasting no time getting right into the trenches.

At last check, Naval Hospital still had 2 patients being treated there.

Eight of the 21 active duty medical staff deployed to Guam got here Wednesday night and coordinating officials hope to have them clocking in at Guam Memorial Hospital as soon as possible to help with the massive need.

Jonathon Bartlett, Region 9 Coordinator for HHS Department, said: “They’ll be trained and briefed prior to going into GMH by DoD. So far, it’s going extremely well and the processing is in place and we hope to get those practitioners, those clinicians, into GMH as soon as possible, maybe even as early as this evening [Thursday].”

Bartlett confirmed with PNC News that another 7 additional staff are expected Thursday night and all will be given emergency licensing to practice on island.

On the air with K57’s Patti Arroyo Thursday morning, Dr. Felix Cabrera said the additional staff will be primarily assigned to GMH but could shuffle between hospitals if needed. He also says contingencies are in place to get staff working right away.

“They’re coming pre-tested negative for COVID and then we’re testing them again right after arrival, and then, when they’re good, we get them oriented and get them up and running, to assist right now,” Cabrera said.

In all, FEMA approved Guam for 15 nurses, 4 respiratory therapists, and 2 intensivists (doctors) in Phase One of a staffing pattern. There are more active-duty staffers approved for Phase Two should the island present the need.

“We hope we don’t have to go to Phase Two. We’re hoping that with the amount of providers here and our analysis that we’ve conducted, that there’s an adequate amount to relieve the stresses on GMH and the healthcare system. And, we’ll evaluate as the trends go up…or down, hopefully down,” said Bartlett.

The DoD personnel are detailed to Guam for just 30 days. Bartlett says that’s a stop-gap to address the immediate emergency however, they’re also eyeing long-term solutions for the island.

“Right now, nationally, the capabilities are stretched very thin. And so, what we’ve been able to do in other regions I worked in is leverage medical staffing contracts as a backstop. And using CARES Act funding, Treasury funding, those kinds of funding opportunities prevent shortfalls in capability financially for the territory and we can leverage those to do a longer-term solution.”

Bartlett adds, “we want to alleviate the immediate stress on the system, but also look for the long-term planning.”

He said, “Our providers come from hospitals, health departments from all over the U.S. that are already also hit by COVID. So, it’s very difficult to pull our providers out of an area of need and put them into another area of need, which we do in a crisis, and this is certainly one of those situations where we’re weighing all of the assets available. But sustaining that on the federal level is a very difficult proposition in this current environment.”

Bartlett echoes what many medical providers have been saying which is that this is a community battle, and it takes more than just the medical frontline to quell the disease.

Because of the hurricanes on the east coast and fires in California, Bartlett has to head back to the continental U.S. Friday, to assist with all the other emergencies facing the nation.