CNMI Legislature Approves Changes To Healthcare Corporation Board

Despite opposition from hospital, if governor signs bill political appointees will manage CHCC

By Erwin Encinares 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 7, 2016) – Despite being opposed by a platoon of Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. officials and staff, the Senate unanimously passed yesterday a bill that re-establishes a politically appointed board of trustees to govern and manage the functions of the corporation.

After extensive discussions that lasted near 8pm last night, the CNMI Senate passed HB 19-185, HD1. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres for his signature.

Numerous corporation officials and staff, who were present to give their thoughts on the matter, were against the bill’s passage.

Dr. John M. Tudela, director of Medical Affairs at CHCC, said the “Dark Ages” of his medical career was when CHCC was still under the central government, when it was just starting its transition into a public corporation.

“I am happy to say that I see a lot of positive changes since my early years here and we are now at a pivotal point to further push healthcare in the CNMI into the ‘first class care’ we envision and strive for,” said Tudela. “This bill, in this form, will only create an additional layer of bureaucracy to overcome.”

Tudela said he is concerned the bill will threaten the progress the corporation has made.

“Please don’t let the sacrifices of countless individuals be in vain because of a hastily drafted bill that has been politicized. The health care industry is complex and leaving the entire control and management on a group of five random individuals is careless,” added Tudela.

CHCC Emergency Department director Martin Rohringer said the authors of HB 19-186 are not well informed when it comes to handling healthcare systems and its needs.

“Although I respect the sincere intention of the proposed act, I believe it will not achieve the goals set out within,” he added.

“Despite the expected and anticipated difficulties that were inherent in implementing the original CHCC Act, CHCC is now doing an excellent job and attending to the people it has set out to satisfy. I can say that CHCC has been better run and serves the people better than it has in many years,” he added.

CHCC medical director of public health Phuong Luu shared that there was once a serious case of drug-resistant tuberculosis on Saipan, which was treated immediately and was contained because of the quick response of the CHCC.

“Health care is very complex. We are the frontline. …I can tell you we had a possible multidrug-resistant tuberculosis case back in June. In one day, I told the CEO, ‘I need to order thousands of dollars in drugs now.’ She said, ‘All right, I trust you. You know what you’re doing,’” said Luu.

“It’s not as easy to maintain stock medicine. When I was referencing the thousand-dollar immediate authorization [of medicine], these are not medicines we don’t carry. …This [was] the first case in many years of drug-resistant tuberculosis. I had to ask [CHCC CEO Esther Muna] to do this immediately because the patient could have died,” said Luu.

The proposed renewal of CHCC

Pedro Deleon Guerrero assisted Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan) as a consultant, while the latter authored the bill.

Deleon Guerrero wanted to improve the way CHCC was set up from the CHCC Act that established CHCC.

“I helped in the research and the drafting of this bill. I listened to all the comments and they were making legitimate concerns, but it does not directly focus on the real intent and purpose of the bill,” said Deleon Guerrero.

“The bill does not take away their responsibilities and their jobs. It does not do that. It just ensures that the corporation will be governed by the board…that has the authority to manage and control CHCC. It does not necessarily mean that they will be the only one to continue the operation of CHCC,” added Deleon Guerrero.

Deleon Guerrero assured that the CEO would still continue to have its authority but would be reporting to the proposed CHCC board.

“The function of the CEO is still there but with the addition of the oversight of the governing board of directors.”

Senate questions

Sen. Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan) assured that the Senate does not want CHCC to revert back to the “Dark Ages.”

“We had a board of trustees for CHCC that really did not have medical backgrounds. It was challenged and it showed. It really showed,” said Palacios. “We lost compliance [with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid]. We were in a crisis. We had to request the federal government to come and assist us.”

Palacios said that in order for the CHCC board to be really efficient, the appointees should be familiar with the healthcare industry.

“We are trying to move forward and see what it is that we need. Personally, I believe there is a need for a governing body,” said Palacios. “We can’t just pick anybody up from the streets or even someone who has a bachelor’s degree. We need to have people who has experience in running a healthcare system.”

Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota) wants to clarify whether the proposed bill would affect the status of CHCC’s CMS recertification.

Deleon Guerrero replied, “The recertification of the hospital is if the hospital is in compliance. I give credit to the present management for doing what they can do.” After further discussion, the Senate unanimously decided to pass HB 19-186, HD1 with no amendments as of publication.

Muna has yet to comment on the matter.

Saipan Tribune
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