Conduct of Civil Service staff questioned
By Steve Limtiaco
A Civil Service Commission investigation that is intended to help Guam Memorial Hospital recruit pharmacists and provide services almost had the opposite effect last week, after accusations made by commission staff members had pharmacists concerned about breaking the law.
Pharmacists then decided to cut their work hours, according to the hospital's pharmacy director.
An agreement reached last Friday involving the governor's office appears to have resolved the hospital's pharmacy problem. Details of that agreement have not been made public, but hospital officials said pharmacists were guaranteed competitive salaries and agreeable contracts, and pharmacy operating hours will not change.
The Civil Service Commission has been an obstacle to various agencies' ability to provide basic services, including those that are federally mandated, according to several government administrators. One senator questions whether the commission's staff has crossed the line when interacting with government agencies.
The Civil Service Commission's investigation has not been collaborative, pharmacy director Robert Weniger said early last week.
"I said, 'In my opinion,' and they said, 'Write that down. He has an opinion.' And this is the kind of intimidation that I was going through. There was no rapport at all. They were just trying to be bullies," Weniger said.
He said commission staff challenged the credentials of a pharmacist who has worked at the hospital for 25 years.
Weniger said he reminded commission staff that the chairman of the island's pharmacy board wrote a letter to the commission, stating that the pharmacist is properly licensed.
"The Civil Service says that's not good enough because it didn't represent all the members of the (pharmacy) board. What they're doing is just kind of dragging their feet and buying time for some reason. We can't figure out why," Weniger said.
The commission staff also accused hospital pharmacists of breaking the law because they collect overtime pay while working on contract, Weniger said.
Hospital pharmacists have been working on contract because of the government's low pay scale, and have been waiting for the government to renew those contracts, some of which expired last June. Because the pharmacy is understaffed, pharmacists also put in for overtime to keep the pharmacy open, Weniger said.
"They're telling me that (I'm breaking the law), and it's an intimidating kind of thing, and I'm telling them I don't know anything about that because all along I'm assured that everything is right," Weniger said. He said he does not know why the commission staff raised that issue with the pharmacists instead of with the hospital management.
Weniger said he later told hospital Administrator William McMillan that the pharmacy staff did not feel comfortable working extra hours, in light of the commission's accusations, so they decided they would work only 40-hour weeks. "It's tragic, but we don't have anything else to do. If Civil Service says you're breaking the law, if we continue, we are breaking the law," Weniger said early last week, before the solution was reached with the governor's office.
While it is possible for the pharmacy to premix medication and refrigerate it so it can be used throughout the night, without a pharmacist on hand there is the danger that prescriptions could be misread or that potentially dangerous combinations of medicine could be administered, Weniger said.
Breaking the law
Luis Baza, chairman of the Civil Service Commission, said it is inappropriate for a commission staff member to tell someone they are breaking the law -- that determination can be made only by the seven appointed commission members.
"You're innocent until proven guilty, and you cannot just say you're guilty without having the appropriate policy people ratify the decision," Baza said. "Once the (staff) report is done, gets ratified and becomes public, then that's the issue. I don't believe it's happening, but if it is we'll take that under advisement."
Commission Executive Director Vernon Perez said the staff during an investigation sometimes will tell agencies about the personnel rules and laws.
"Staff at the commission is very knowledgeable about existing rules and laws that relate to personnel. And exchanging information, ... basically informing someone of the rule, that may happen in conversation," Perez said. "The inquiry into this (pharmacist) recruitment issue, ... it's with the view to not compromise the delivery of service. Everyone wants the hospital to be able to deliver adequate and appropriate pharmacy services, and all related services for that matter."
The seven members of the government's Civil Service Commission have not arrived at any conclusions or set any policy with respect to contracts for hospital pharmacists.
The commission's staff still is investigating the matter and has yet to present its findings to the board, said commission Vice Chairman Manuel Pinauin.
"We are looking at the pharmacy recruitment issue, to get information to help with the recruitment of pharmacists," said Perez. "We embarked on a study/inquiry to help discern and assess where the recruitment difficulties lie."
Weniger last week said he doubts the ability of the commission's staff to study or address the issue.
"They're not health-care professionals. They're not physicians, they're not nurses or pharmacists, so their background is pretty thin. So they couldn't really comprehend much that the pharmacists would illustrate, say or explain as far as the kind of work we do. I'm not altogether sure they understood anything," he said.
When asked why the pharmacist pay issue is of concern to the commission, Chairman Baza said an overpaid pharmacist would be unfair to the government's other allied health professionals.
Bureaucracy and services
Sen. Robert Klitzkie, R-Yigo, who has oversight for government operations, including the Civil Service Commission, said he is concerned about the way the commission operates.
"I'm not convinced that the Civil Service Commission, that is the commission itself, has had a good effect on providing services. I think the reason for that is too much of what goes on is the bureaucrats instead of the commission," Klitzkie said. "If it's just the staff passing memos around, I don't see that they have the authority to do anything. I would question the staff's ability to ever tell a government official that he can or can't do something."
Klitzkie said he has examined the hospital pharmacist dispute and said he cannot find any law that allows the commission to reject the pharmacist contracts. He also cannot find any indication that the seven-member commission ever voted to reject those contracts.
"The personnel management function is pretty technical, even for people who spend their whole life in the field of (human resources), and I don't know that having a Civil Service Commission bureaucracy involved to the extent that it is involved -- pharmacists being a really good example -- is helping the government provide services," Klitzkie said.
Perez, the commission executive director, said the commission members in 1989 adopted job standards for the executive director's position that delegate the authority to coordinate and direct investigations of conditions in the government of Guam and to perform post-audits of personnel actions.
More Articles in March 2005