The report submitted by President Surangel Whipps Jr.’s Transition Team examines ways to provide “better and more holistic care for all populations in the Republic”, which, along with Ministry realignments, include improvements to healthcare facilities and services.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) section of the Transition Report, compiled by a subcommittee co-chaired by Jason Nolan and Christopher Kitalong, sets forth proposals for “improving and streamlining” programs within the ministry, which include increasing roles in social welfare.
A bill has already been passed in its first reading in the Senate which acted on some changes outlined in the report, changing the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Health and Human Services (MHH), with two bureaus: the Bureau of Hospital & Clinical Services and the Bureau of Public Health. The bill realigns social services previously under the Ministry of Community & Cultural Affairs (MCCA) with the MHH, including those for the aging and disabled, and increases benefits for the disabled. It also recommends moving the National Emergency Management Office under the Office of the President.
The Transition Report also emphasizes the need to consolidate all of the Public Health Offices in one location.
In addition to these realignments, the report proposes a series of short-and-long-term goals to enhance the quality of healthcare in Palau, including the improvement of healthcare facilities, such as the COVID-19 Alternative Care Site, Palau’s Community Health Centers, and a new National Hospital, as well as the implementation of services such as those provided by the Family Protection Act.
The MOH is already undertaking a healthcare facility improvement project orchestrated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), for the rehabilitation of three primary healthcare facilities in Ngerchelong, Ngeremlengui, and Peleliu, scheduled to be completed by May. The long-term plan, however, is to provide for the rehabilitation and staffing of community health centers throughout the states, in additional places like Melekeok and Airai.
The Transition Report also endorses the improvement of one of the healthcare facilities in Babeldaob to provide similar basic services as those provided by the Community Health Center (CHC) and Outpatient Department (OPD) in the Belau National Hospital (BNH), including a full staff and the ability to provide care such as wound-dressing and IV-treatment.
The report further identifies the need to address the relocation of the BNH, which has received criticism for structural problems and its proximity to the ocean. The Report suggests the President to “create a commission to initiate and oversee the pre-planning, planning . . . and design of the project to relocate the hospital”.
Much emphasis in the report is given to the Family Protection Act, which was passed in 2012 to protect victims of domestic violence. The Act is meant to provide coordinated responses from the legal and medical bodies of Palau to enforce the law against offenders of domestic violence and provide safety and support to victims. The Transition Report stresses the importance of developing a plan for the implementation of the Act, and improvement of coordination among the participating bodies in response to instances of domestic abuse.
Other proposals in the report include updating Bureau of Public Service System (BPSS) rules and regulations, replacing aging medical equipment, and increasing investment in developing pathways to healthcare career opportunities for Palauans.