Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hospital Medical Libraries Populate the Micronesian Region

By Arlene Cohen,
Pacific Islands Library Consultant

Two generous grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are providing funding to establish or rebuild nine hospital medical libraries in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. This exciting endeavor began in 2007 when the RWJF awarded the Ayuda Foundation in Guam a $49,000 year-long grant to support the rebuilding of the Yap State Hospital Durand Medical Library destroyed by Typhoon Sudal in 2004. The RWJF grant was written and implemented by Arlene Cohen, a retired University of Guam librarian, and Alice Hadley, U.S. Naval Hospital Guam medical librarian, together with Carlotta Leon Guerrero, Ayuda Foundation executive director, and Walden Weilbacher, the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures Secretariat and member of the Ayuda Foundation Board.

In April, 2008, after ordering the books, computers, software and materials, Cohen and Hadley visited Yap to set up the library, to organize the initial 150 book collection, and to set up the library automation software. They also trained Charlene Laamtal, the newly appointed medical librarian, about managing and promoting the library.

Dr. Thane Hancock, a Yap State Hospital physician and the Yap Area Health Education Center Director, expressed his enthusiasm by saying: "Physicians now have access to computers and a medical library resource and can effectively diagnose illnesses and prescribe proper treatments. The new library has become an important resource center for the doctors and health care workers, and it eases the burden on the doctors by providing real-time diagnosis and a faster path to recovery for their patients."

After their April 2008 visit to Yap, Hadley and Cohen were so excited at the success of the project, they asked Leon Guerrero and the RWJF if they would be willing to entertain a new grant to replicate the Yap project, establishing new hospital medical libraries throughout the eight other U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands state hospitals in Palau, the FSM, the Marshall Islands, American Samoa, the CNMI and Guam. All agreed, and after a needs assessment was done by each island, they worked with Michael Epp, executive director of the Pacific Islands Health Officers Associate, to draw up a memorandum of understanding. The MOU clearly defined the commitments implied in the project and were signed by each respective interested health minister, thus assuring the future sustainability of the libraries. These commitments included each hospital providing a librarian, space for the library, Internet access, a future budget line item for library materials and support for the librarian’s involvement in PIALA. The grant was designed to provide funding for books, computers, library automation software, cataloging supplies and training. Happily, in December 2008, RWJF awarded the Ayuda Foundation $389,754 for the project, titled “Replicating the Yap State Hospital Medical Library Project in Hospitals throughout the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands.”

In mid-2008, the Belau National Hospital, in trying to address the critical need for medical information access, appointed Sunshine Garcia as its medical librarian to reestablish its outdated and disorganized hospital medical library. Subsequently, and although the RWJF grant had only then been submitted, in November 2008, Cohen and Hadley visited the Belau National Hospital Library to assist Garcia in weeding the collection, setting up the library automation system and training her on its use.  Soon after the grant was awarded, orders were placed for more than 100 new books, computers and cataloging supplies. The Belau National Hospital Library is now fully functional.

The second library established under the second RWJF grant was at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center Medical in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Early in March 2009, Ann Fatima Lafaele was appointed its medical librarian, and soon after, orders were placed for new books, computers, a multimedia projector and cataloging supplies. After Cohen did the cataloging of the initial collection in Seattle, Hadley journeyed to Pago Pago in May 2009 and worked with Lafaele to organize the collection, set up the library automation system and trained her to manage and promote the library. To date, there are 135 new books in the collection and several computers set up for library patron use in accessing electronic medical information. 

Patricia Tindall, the LBJ Tropical Medical Center CEO, noted in a front page article about the new library in the May 30 Samoa News: “the quality of care here will be greatly enhanced with the access the library provides. ‘This is a solid step in the right direction for staying with national standards, keeping abreast of world health and medical updates.  It means we will be raising the stand of care, with access to updated news and information… we can be remote, but still access ‘state of the art’ information with this library.’”

At the end of May 2009, the CNMI Commonwealth Health Center in Saipan hired Shirley Ada as its Medical Librarian and orders were placed for new books, computers and cataloging supplies. Cohen has completed cataloging the collection in Seattle.  Then, in early August 2009, Hadley journeyed to Saipan to work with Ada in organizing the collection and training her to manage and promote the library.

Meanwhile, the Guam Memorial Hospital is in the process of hiring a medical librarian.  Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae and the Marshall Islands are still working on appointing their medical librarians, and hopefully work on these hospital medical libraries will be begin in the near future. The grant began in January 2009 and runs through June 2010. 

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