CNMI SENATOR WANTS AUDIT ROTA HEALTH FUNDS

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Nurses unpaid in four pay periods

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 7, 2011) - Rota Legislative Delegation chair Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) will be asking the Office of the Public Auditor, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Department of Finance to review or audit alleged illegal reprogramming of funds intended for the Rota Health Center, which has yet to pay some of its nurses' salaries for at least four pay periods.

"It looks like there's violation of the budget law when funds that are supposed to go to the Rota Health Center are used for other programs," the senator told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Section 705(c) of Public Law 17-21-the fiscal year 2011 budget law-appropriated US$340,000 from Rota's budget to pay for professional services for nurses, technicians, and other medical and auxiliary professionals.

But Rota Health Center nurses hired from the private manpower firm, Saipan Employment Agency and Services, have not been paid their salaries for at least four pay periods.

On Tuesday, Rota Health Center resident director Crispin M. Ayuyu also asked Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson for a "financial history" of three of RHC's accounts for fiscal year 2011.

These include accounts 1912, 1957, and 1989, which were for Public Health, Environmental Health, and Dental Health.

The director told Larson that SEAS nurses at the Rota Health Center are not being paid, even as the 2011 budget provides for payments of these nurses' services.

"Further, the mayor of Rota has the authority to ensure transfer, reprogram, or other financial transactions within the Municipality of Rota for their wages. This is not done, which becomes puzzling," director Ayuyu told Larson in a July 5 letter.

Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola could not be reached for comment as of press time yesterday.

Rota Health Center reportedly owes SEAS some US$100,000 as payment of wages for services that five nurses and one medical laboratory technician have been providing to the government center.

Henry Cruz, owner of SEAS, neither confirmed nor denied yesterday the amount owed and the status of SEAS nurses at the Rota Health Center.

On Tuesday, director Ayuyu said that only when he has a clear picture of funds available for the Rota Health Center can he better recommend to the incoming Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. specific action that must be taken to ensure the continuity of healthcare services on Rota.

"Number of personnel, positions, salaries, operations, activities (transfer-in and transfer-out), and other justifications must be well in place prior to the implementation of [the Healthcare Corp.] next fiscal year or rather immediate request is whether funds from RHC accounts are transferred out of RHC and its history. This will reflect what attention is given to our RHC," director Ayuyu told Larson.

Senator Ayuyu said he got a copy of the resident director's letters to both Larson and Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola only yesterday.

"I will call for an emergency meeting of the Rota delegation on Friday. The services of nurses are critical. We want to know why the money that's supposed to pay for these nurses' services are gone," the senator said.

Director Ayuyu, in his June 15 letter to the Rota mayor, said it is surprising that money for the health center is unavailable.

"My research of the RHC budget revealed lapsed funds from previous months which may be used for this purpose is unquestionably available. Mr. Mayor, you stated that there are no funds available for RHC because the higher-ups 'did reprogram and have exhausted any and all amount,'" he said.

The Fitial administration has yet to respond to inquiries related to the Rota Health Center funding.

"This being the case, I will support your request for both.[the] Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Auditor to immediately commence a review of this complete violation of the 2011 Budget Act," director Ayuyu told the mayor.

He reiterated that the Rota mayor is the expenditure authority for the Rota Health Center.

"Please take no action now so that whatever reprogram action taken by the administration to support other CNMI government operations should be revealed as soon as possible," Ayuyu said on June 15.

Last month, the Rota mayor said the municipality still owes its nurses over US$100,000 in unpaid wages since last year.

Unlike the Tinian mayor, Mendiola is willing to let go of the center, saying the Department of Public Health is the right agency to manage its operations.

In related news, one registered nurse at the Rota Health Center will be leaving the center by the end of July.

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