History – Overview
In this section we will attempt to describe the difficulties related to trying to provide comprehensive healthcare services to a growing population from within a poorly built, poorly maintained, and generally inadequate facility that has been long outgrown since it was constructed in June, 1968.
The healthcare service in American Samoa is mostly run by locally licensed doctors and questionably qualified administrative personnel, a number of whom do not seem to possess the caring will necessary to perform their duties. This is certainly not to say however that everyone working in healthcare there is unqualified or uncaring. There are a number of extremely dedicated people doing their best for what is needed from within these confines. Clearly though, certain factions within the healthcare system are holding back lasting progress there, which continues to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the more dedicated and capable individuals to perform at their peak levels.
Financial stability continues to be a monstrous problem for the medical center, and this is undoubtedly the most common excuse given by folks trying to explain away the deficiencies at LBJ. We believe however that there exist many potential solutions to the ongoing funding problems that still have not even been explored (much less requested), or perhaps such solutions would simply require too much from the present administration (at all levels)? There is also in our opinion a tremendous amount of waste going on with the existing funding sources, plus a documented unwillingness of the local (ASG) Government to keep up with their legally-mandated monthly budget subsidies. We would also go so far as to say that there appears to be a significant amount of interal corruption as well.
Thus there have been many ongoing difficulties faced by the local healthcare sector throughout the years, but at this point the general condition of healthcare in American Samoa can only be described as outdated, shameful, and even dangerous (not to mention inexcusable). Quoting from the Reader’s Digest 1961 article titled “Samoa: America’s Shame in the South Seas”, this one sentence unfortunately still very clearly speaks to current conditions at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center. “While we have been doling out billions to underdeveloped nations, we have let our only South Pacific possession sink to the level of a slum.”
We will attempt to explain more about all of these issues throughout this website.
History – Facilities
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center was built sometime in the latter part of the 1960s.
It was nice that they named it after the only U.S. president ever to visit American Samoa. President Johnson visited on October 18, 1966. You can learn more about his visit here.
The “Tropical Medical Center” part of the name seems to refer more to the type of construction than to imply that tropical medicine is actually practiced there. The original design was totally open, with almost no closing windows and no air conditioning, except in surgery, birthing and nursery areas.
The wards were two patients to a room and those rooms had large open windows stretching the full width of the room and about 5’ high. The windows had only screen wire to separate the patients from the outside.
Plumbing, electrical and mechanical conduits are suspended in the ceilings along the main hallways. There is always incessant dripping causing wet spots on the floors. Many people have slipped and fallen in these wet spots, but still the dripping continues.
There have been many improvements over the years, but only as conditions demanded. The entire facility is now enclosed and air conditioned. The old, leaky roofing was replaced by metal roofing, which seems to be holding up pretty well. Much needed parking was added. The waiting area for the Emergency Room was enlarged and chickens no longer hang out around the outside benches. The pharmacy was upgraded and wait times reduced.
Even with all the improvements, the facility remains filthy and woefully inadequate. The hospital was built to serve a population of about 25,000 people and now attempts to serve nearly 70,000. There are some dispensaries (clinics) where minor ailments, dentistry and pre-natal care is provided. Still, most people head for the main hospital whenever they need any kind of medical attention.
Some of the pictures on this site will show the deplorable conditions of the facility most people depend on for their healthcare services.