On January 23, 2016, Monica DeVera rushed her son, Charles Vincent Blas, to the Guam Regional Medical City, after finding him at home with seizures his mother believed were caused by a prescription he had just taken.
While in GRMC’s care, Mr. Blas was given a lethal dose of medication and died right in front of his mother, she said.
In the seconds before his death, he shouted at her, “Mom, please don’t let me die! Mom!”
She replied, “I won’t let you die, son.”
[WATCH below: Monica DeVera’s heartbreaking plea for senators to change the law]
Ms. DeVera sought the help of an attorney to bring justice to her son’s death. The attorney informed her of Guam’s Medical Malpractice Mandatory Arbitration Act and told her that because of the law, she would need to fork out $60,000 to start the arbitration against the doctors she alleges caused the malpractice and her son’s death.
Ms. DeVera didn’t have $60,000. The vast majority of Guam’s residents do not have this kind of money.
Two other families, who have fallen victim to medical malpractice, the Lubofskys and the Taitagues, filed suit against parties to malpractice claims and have simultaneously requested a permanent injunction against the government of Guam to declare the MMMA unconstitutional. A Saipan family in January 2020 filed a similar suit for malpractice that allegedly occurred at GRMC.
Throughout 2019, David Lubofsky, whose son Asher Dean died on October 31, 2018 due to malpractice, led a campaign for senators to change the law. Sen. Therese Terlaje held a series of informational hearings to take testimony on any proposed changes or reforms.
On October 3, 2019, Ms. DeVera went before the Legislature in one of those hearings and pleaded with senators to repeal the MMMA.
On November 18, 2019, Then-Speaker Tina Muna Barnes introduced Bill No. 248, which would keep the mandatory arbitration clauses of the current law, but set aside $100,000 a year to help indigent victims to make claims.
If that bill had become law, it would not have help Ms. DeVera and others like her, who would be disqualified from tapping into that pool of money (which is not even enough to help two victims a year), based on the qualifying factors in Ms. Muna Barnes’s bill.
In statements to the media, Ms. Muna Barnes admitted that the legislation was drafted by doctors who are part of and leaders in the powerful medical lobby group, Guam Medical Association.
Please watch the video we prepared following the October 3, 2019 hearing to see Ms. DeVera’s heartbreaking plea to senators that fell on deaf ears in the 35th Guam Legislature.
In November 2020, Guam voters changed the composition of the legislature mildly, and in January this year senators elected Ms. Terlaje to be the speaker. Within weeks of inauguration, Ms. Terlaje introduced Bill No. 112-36, which would give poor- and middle class-residents due process under the law and access to the court system, when a legitimate medical malpractice claim arises.
The speaker held a series of hearings and endured relentless attack from the doctors’s lobby.
Bill No. 112-36 remains in the legislative health committee and awaits its passage onto the floor of the Legislature. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero already has spoken against the measure, and demanded Ms. Terlaje withdraw the bill. The speaker did no such thing, even in the face of threats by the powerful medical lobby.
In a July 6, 2021 statement, she said:
“We need to stick to facts, not fear. Physicians have a big voice and great influence in our community and It is truly disheartening that some of the discussion on this bill has crossed a line into threats against patients, name calling and outright misinformation.
The people of Guam deserve the facts and a safe space to have meaningful dialogue about their healthcare and their rights as patients. I want to share the facts about the bill and to encourage everyone to watch or attend the upcoming public hearings to decide how the proposal might impact their lives or how they can contribute to the discussion productively. I continue to welcome the doctors and patients to attend the hearings or to meet with me.
There are several doctors who are very vocal who have canceled meetings or told me they would be in Hawaii and could not meet, while some never requested to meet with me and are demanding I “finally” meet with them. My door remains open and I will continue to discuss this with doctors and patients.
I am trying to ensure that all in our community can participate, ask questions, and be heard.”
Bill 112-36 is intended to address those harmed by medical negligence who cannot afford approximately $40-50K for mandatory arbitration while ensuring confidential screening and protection of doctors against frivolous claims. The bill proposes to allow arbitration at reduced costs as agreed to by the parties and to enact a case screening system through a magistrate judge for those who do not agree to costly arbitration. Under the current law, costs of mandatory arbitration have deterred the filing of claims by those who cannot afford the upfront expenses, in addition to only having one year to raise the funds and file a claim.