VIDEO: Verga Says GMH Not the Place to Medically Clear All DUI’s for DOC

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Guam – The Guam Memorial Hospital says it doesn’t have the resources to be able to accept a policy the Department of Corrections has proposed that would require intoxicated detainees to get a hospital clearance before being sent to prison.

The problem, however, is, DOC says they’re running out of options too and the situation is getting out of hand.

“That’s one of the problems that the folks use GMH for all kinds of other reasons that they should be using other places like clinics. And of course it causes backups and problems here,” states GMH Administrator Joe Verga.

“We don’t have the proper resources to deal with the influx of inmates right now,” emphasizes DOC Spokesman Antone Aguon.

Neither the Department of Corrections nor the Guam Memorial Hospital have the proper resources to address the influx of detainees under the influence of alcohol or other illegal substances. However, a new directive will have significant impacts on both agencies as well as the Guam Police Department.

DOC Director Jose San Agustin issued a memorandum on July 16, informing various stakeholders that DOC will stop taking detainees under the influence unless they’ve been medically cleared by GMH. Already understaffed, Aguon says they don’t have the man power to treat detainees after hours, which is when most of them are brought in. And, he adds, there have already been many near death experiences.

“We’re not saying don’t arrest people and bring them in. We’re saying if you’re gonna bring in an intoxicated person, they need to be seen by a medical professional to ensure that they don’t die in our custody,” Aguon points out.

Aguon notes that there’s an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. He refers to a policy change from August 2010 that required mandatory imprisonment for anyone arrested for driving under the influence.

“In the past most DUI’s were booked and released, they were not confined. But in 2010 there was a policy change–not the law that changed–a policy change in that they are gonna have a proactive approach to the DUI in pro-confinement, so every DUI was subsequently confined,” he notes.

The problem, Aguon says, is that many of these arrestees are highly intoxicated and need medical attention.

“Sometimes to the point where we can’t even process them and our concern, along with our doctor’s concern, our own medical director, is about alcohol poisoning, severe alcohol withdrawal and other issues and a potential life threatening situations,” Aguon says.

The policy was implemented in 2010, Aguon points out, but no resources were provided to DOC associated with the costs of that policy.

“We get over 250 sick calls a week. These are the various inmates and detainees asking to see a doctor for various issues. We only have one doctor to deal with that and generally he can only get to 50 to 60 [sick calls] a week,” says Aguon. “In January of this year we had 540 people. As of this morning I have 690.”

However, GMH says they’re tied up too. Administrator Joe Verga tells PNC that GMH is not a clinic and while they treat emergency cases, routine medical care should be sent elsewhere or handled at DOC directly.

“We certainly take care of detainees who need to be hsoptialized or are in urgent distress that need care in an emergency room. So if someone has a medical issue like chest pains or if they need to be detoxed or something of that nature, if they’re in an emergency, then of coruse we take care of them,” Verga states.

“We’re not an urgent care clinic although folks use the ER like one and that’s part of the problem we’re trying to deal with with urgent care,” he adds.

But Aguon states: We’re not saying don’t arrest people. Arrest them, bring them in, we’ll take anybody no matter how overcrowded we get, we’ll find a way to take them, that’s our job. We’re just saying we need to make aure they don’t die.”

Aguon notes that DOC will be meeting with GMH and GPD officials to discuss this policy change in the coming week.