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Helmsley Charitable Trust Grants Over $3M to Increase Access to Healthcare Services for Residents of American Samoa

AMERICAN SAMOA, June 27, 2024 – The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced today $3.2 million in grants to provide an Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine, portable X-ray units, and portable ultrasound equipment to Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center (LBJTMC) and American Samoa Community Health Centers (ASCHC) in American Samoa, a remote United States territory in the South Pacific.

These grants are the first major philanthropic funds in support of healthcare in American Samoa.

Residents on the island have access to only one hospital and there are currently no MRI machines available, forcing patients to fly to New Zealand or Hawaii – more than 2,000 miles away – for an examination. The median household income in American Samoa is $28,352, and paying for the costs of healthcare, accommodations, and flights adds up quickly, which means most residents have limited access to basic healthcare.

The government of American Samoa spends millions of dollars each year to send residents off-island for medical care, and MRI exams are just one example of the need for more healthcare resources on American Samoa.

In 2023, 77 patients in American Samoa were approved to receive MRI exams off-island. LBJTMC supported 34 of those patients in their travels, with airfare costs totaling $63,000. Once off-island, patients pay for MRI and other medical services themselves. Another 22 of the 77 patients were able to go off-island with financial support from Medicaid and other health organizations, but 21 people did not travel because they could not afford the cost of MRI and related medical expenses.

Helmsley’s grants are addressing the critical gap in healthcare by increasing access to care locally so patients do not have to forego care because of distance or cost.

“American Samoa was a key strategic asset in the South Pacific for our country during World War II, but since then, the people here have not received the same access to care as mainland Americans,” said Walter Panzirer, Trustee at the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“The doctors, nurses, and staff at Lyndon Johnson Tropical Medical Center and American Samoa Community Health Centers provide the best care they can, given their limited resources, but they don’t have the equipment that they need. Augmenting the islands’ health facilities with better diagnostic resources, like MRI machines, will elevate the quality of healthcare available to American Samoans,” he added. “A core part of Helmsley’s grantmaking has been to ensure that Americans in remote parts of the Upper Midwest and Mountain states have access to quality healthcare close to home—and now we hope to do the same for the people in some of the most remote and beautiful American territories with these grants.”

MRI scanners are vital tools that detect, diagnose, and monitor for a wide range of diseases and conditions. By equipping the island with an MRI machine, the grants will enhance diagnostic capabilities and allow for early detection and accurate assessment of various medical conditions. The hospital anticipates it will perform 2,500 MRI studies per year.

In addition to purchasing MRIs, one of the grants will increase access to other basic medical resources at the island’s health centers. Healthcare services in American Samoa are primarily performed by LBJTMC, however, many of the island’s most remote communities rely on ASCHC, which operates seven clinics and provides family-oriented, culturally sensitive care to patients.

Currently, radiology services are not available at all ASCHC clinical sites, and many patients who require X-ray or ultrasound studies are referred to LBJTMC. The grant will purchase portable chest X-rays and ultrasound machines for the health centers, enhancing access to critical healthcare technology and significantly decreasing the number of patients who are referred to the main hospital or transported by plane to another island.

“Many of our patients are going off-island for orthopedic issues and other medical conditions because we simply do not have the resources to confirm their diagnosis and provide follow-up care,” said Dr. Akapusi Ledua, Chief Executive Officer of LBJTMC. “These grants are incredibly impactful for the people of American Samoa because they will allow our patients to get treated closer to home without having to leave their families and jobs behind to receive care.”

“Many people in American Samoa, particularly those in the most remote communities, depend on our network of community health centers for care, yet many of our facilities lack access to modern medical technology,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lauvao, Head of the American Samoa Department of Health. “This grant from Helmsley is transformative, as it will enable our clinics to offer higher quality care closer to home, reducing the need for residents to travel long distances for basic medical care.”

 

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About The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $4.5 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program funds innovative projects that use information technologies to connect rural patients to emergency medical care, bring the latest medical therapies to patients in remote areas, and provide state-of-the-art training for rural hospitals and EMS personnel. To date, this program has awarded more than $700 million to organizations and initiatives in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and American Samoa. For more information, visit helmsleytrust.org.

 

About American Samoa Community Health Centers

The mission of the American Samoa Community Health Center (ASCHC) is to provide high quality family oriented, culturally appropriate, comprehensive primary and preventative care for its target population, with active community involvement. The CHCs will also serve as an Emergency Response Facility during any incident that poses a major threat to the public.

 

About Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center

Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center is the only hospital in American Samoa, and is located in Faga’alu, Ma’oputasi County. The current Chief Executive Officer is Dr. Akapusi Ledua. It has been ranked among the best hospitals in the Pacific. It is home to an emergency room and there are doctors on duty at all hours. It is a 150-bed facility. It includes TB, leprosy and obstetric units. The hospital was built in 1968 and is operating under a $50 million budget as of 2017. For more information, visit lbjtmc.org.

 

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Contact:

Michelle Tsai, mtsai@helmsleytrust.org