CNMI Hospital Decries Senate Bill Modifying Board’s Role

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CHCC not informed of plan to change board from advisory to governing

By Jayson Camacho

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 26, 2014) – The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. is not too pleased with Tuesday’s passage in the Senate of a bill that would change the corporation’s advisory board into a governing board.

Senate Bill 18-52 was passed during a Senate session held on Dec. 23. According to CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muna, CHCC was not informed that the bill would be up for discussion in the session.

SB 18-52 seeks to amend certain sections of Public Law 16-51 in order to make the CHCC’s advisory board a governing one, with powers to hire and fire the CEO.

The bill states that "in order to develop high quality and efficient healthcare system in the CNMI, it is imperative that a qualified group of individuals, rather than one individual, make the decisions of the corporation. Accordingly, the purpose of this legislation is to amend certain provisions of PL 16-51 to allow for a smooth transition from the department to the new healthcare corporation."

It adds "It is the purpose of this Act is to empower the board of trustees to make policies and perform all acts necessary and expedient to ensure the delivery of quality care in a financially responsible manner for the people of the Commonwealth."

Upon hearing the news, Muna lamented the Senate’s action without informing CHCC or hearing CHCC’s side at all.

"I am shocked that the Senate passed this bill anyway without considering or understanding the challenges CHCC faced when the advisory board was confused in their role of being "governing." We saw their actions in the past that almost led to the immediate termination of the Commonwealth Health Center’s hospital certification back in 2011 and placing our patients in immediate jeopardy of injury and death when they were ‘governing,’" Muna said.

"Their actions earlier this year that placed CHC in further risk forced the Attorney General’s Office to remind them of their advisory role because of their statements made such as ‘I don’t care what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service says’ and disregarding a credentialing process that raised the standards of care," she added.

"Obviously quality and safety was not a concern as one of them hinted we credentialed a staff anyway and in a few days he would make a mistake. We should regard a life much more than that."

Muna said that CHCC is not against the Senate’s action toward changing the board into a governing one but the corporation may have a problem with the current members of the board.

"If this becomes law, it would be difficult to work with the current members with proven disregard of the CMS regulations and in improving quality of care for our people. CMS is satisfied with the current structure of the governing body of the hospital and the only reason it was cited in the last survey was because there were conditions in the other areas," she said.

If the bill becomes law, "this inexperienced board" will be deciding how the hospital should be staffed and run and can remove any quality checks they feel like it because of political pressure and because of their ego, especially since the voting rights of the CEO and the medical director is removed, according to Muna.

"I beg the Legislature and the governor to kill this bill as it removes the standard and quality our people deserve. CHC has come a long way and at the last survey and the last letter we received from CMS, they clearly are appreciative of leadership and our progress. Don’t just read the letter that there are issues…look at the heart of that letter and you’ll see that we should be proud of where we’re going," Muna said.

CHCC board chair Jack Torres declined to comment yesterday, saying he has no knowledge of the bill itself being passed and if there were any changes. Other board members were also sought for comments but they did not respond to queries as of press time.

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