Saturday, November 14, 2009

Public Health outlines priorities for buildup

Public Health outlines priorities for buildup

By Laura Matthews • Pacific Daily News • November 13, 2009

There are four priority issues the Department of Public Health and Social Services are looking to improve in preparation for the military buildup.

Those priority issues are strengthening workforce capacity, more capital improvements, increasing funding for infrastructure and services, and placing a greater focus on regulations, licensing and insurance.

"We have to ensure that these four priorities will allow for a road map to get us through the next five years," said Public Health Director J. Peter Roberto.

Roberto was addressing attendees of the Guam Community and Economic Development Forum at the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort yesterday.

In strengthening the workforce, he said nurses and doctors need to be acquired. Their training, development and retention is also important, he added.

Similarly, an expansion of current health facilities is a must. Clinics in the north and south of the island are being prepared as such. These expansions must include new equipment and upgrades.

By 2015, Guam will get 20 years of growth in five years because of the military buildup. About 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents will be brought to the island along with 15,000 to 20,000 civilian residents, according to Pacific Daily News files.

"With this huge increase in our population we have to lay down the priorities. ... If we don't make the improvements in our infrastructure, then we can't deal with the buildup," Roberto said.

The department's Division of Environmental Health will be given first priority when the military buildup takes effect, he said.

"In the bigger picture, it plays a critical role in that health and safety is ensured," Roberto said. "We are talking about health and sanitation, the inspection of the barracks and food safety."

He said divisions dealing with communicable diseases and child protective services is the next priority.

But some say there is one priority that needs to top the list.

"I am very concerned that the topic of human services in health is very low on the list," said Sarah Thomas Nededog, executive director of Sanctuary Inc.

"We are already experiencing a host of other social issues, from mental health to disabilities, and we have not been successful in doing the job. There is no consensus in place for the quality of life for the people," she added.

Nededog said a comprehensive social development plan that will quantify the number of people on the island with disabilities, how many are homeless and the number of them who suffer from mental health issues is needed.

She said policies, funding and programs for the local population are areas that are "largely underdeveloped" when it comes to human services in health.

"We have some work to do now and we need to start paying attention. Prosperity of the population should be first and foremost," Nededog said.

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