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Doctor resigns, files complaint against Guam hospital

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) —  Dr. Kozue Shimabukuro has resigned from her position as the assistant administrator for medical services at Guam Memorial Hospital and left the island.

Dr. Kozue Shimabukuro left Guam last week on a flight to California. Photo by Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

On Wednesday, she submitted notice of “constructive discharge” to GMH management and boarded a flight the next day to return to California. 

In employment law, “constructive discharge” allows an employee to resign with immediate effect. It preserves Shimabukuro’s right to take legal action against GMH in the future.

In her resignation letter, Shimabukuro claims breach of contract, violations of GMH bylaws, and violations of territorial and federal laws governing work environments and handling of whistleblower claims that were “so abusive and hostile” that she was “unable to tolerate continued employment.”

On Thursday, prior to boarding her flight back to California, Shimabukuro spoke to The Guam Daily Post at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport and explained that she was leaving because the environment at GMH had become so “toxic” that it was difficult for her to speak out and do her job correctly. 

Shimabukuro filed a whistleblower complaint with the Civil Service Commission before she left, alleging “malicious retaliation” in response to her testimony before the Guam Legislature on June 11 during which she was critical of GMH management.

She also accuses GMH management of attempting to damage her reputation by filing a report with the National Practitioner Data Bank or NPDB that could threaten her medical license and damage her prospects for future employment.

GMH Administrator PeterJohn Camacho has called her allegations “false and a misrepresentation of the facts.” 

On Friday, Camacho declined to respond to a request for comment on Shimabukuro’s resignation, saying it was a personnel matter. However, he said GMH’s attorney will file a response to her whistleblower complaint today with CSC.

Shimabukuro made her first public allegations of mismanagement and corruption at GMH during testimony before the Legislature on June 11.

“But even before that,” she told the Post before leaving, “I’d been speaking out internally.”

“I started to notice that there were better things that we could do, that we could be more responsible about managing the government funds,” she said.  “This is (the) people’s money” and “there was a lot of waste.”

“As a compliance officer,” Shimabukuro said, “if I noticed something that needs to be reported or investigated, I would do it.” However, she said when she raised allegations against “the powerful physicians or connected people...the executives would say ‘just leave them alone.’”

As a result of her outspokenness internally, Shimabukuro said she was served with a memo on April 13 relieving her of her administrative responsibilities and assigning her to a clinical position as a pediatric hospitalist.

Shimabukuro is by training a pediatric intensivist; however, she said she did not have a contract as a physician at GMH. “I was purely hired as an administrator,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, there was no need for an additional pediatric hospitalist, as all the shifts were covered, she said. “I couldn’t go out and take other people’s shifts; that’s their income.”

In the end, she said she was left with nothing to do at GMH.

On Friday, Guam Federation of Teachers union representative Robert Koss sent a letter to CSC Executive Director Pete Calvo, and the 15 senators in the Legislature accusing the GMH administrator of “an act of retaliation” against Shimabukuro “for her testimony before the Guam Legislature.”

Shimabukuro was an unclassified employee at GMH who, like other GMH employees, was represented by the Guam Federation of Teachers.

In his letter to CSC, Koss states that Danielle Muratalla, the medical director at Loma Linda University where Shimabukuro previously worked, had “received an NPDB report in regards to action taken by Guam Hospital.”

Muratalla wrote that the report will be reviewed by Loma Linda’s credentials committee which has asked Shimabukuro for “an explanation of everything that transpired regarding this event.”

The reference to “Guam Hospital” does not make it clear whether “this event” occurred at GMH or Guam Regional Medical City, where Shimabukuro also worked.

Koss stated the actions of the hospital administrator are exactly the sort of retaliation that Guam’s whistleblower laws and blacklisting laws are intended to prevent.

“The hospital administrator must now be suspended,” Koss wrote, “until both the NPDB and the Guam Civil Service Commission have completed their investigations and issued their findings.”

“This is vindictive, and this is what they do to physicians who speak out,” Shimabukuro wrote in a texted response to The Guam Daily Post on Saturday.

“I don’t even know what was reported, because this was done behind the closed door.”

She said, “This proves that I wasn’t given due process.”

Shimabukuro arrived on Guam in February 2016 to work at GRMC. In December of that year, she was hired by GMH as the assistant administrator for medical services.

She first came to public attention in May 2017 when she brought some to tears during a GMH budget hearing at the Legislature. She spoke about the heartbreaking effects of the public hospital’s perpetual lack of funds and outdated equipment, some of which she said she hadn’t seen since she served on a medical mission in Africa.

Before coming to Guam, she was at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital where she served as an assistant professor and attending physician in the pediatric intensive care unit.