Hospital employees who are affected by delayed housing allowance can now heave a sigh of relief after Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Juan N. Babauta said yesterday that he prefers the suspension or reduction of the benefit rather than totally scrapping it.
It can be recalled that the advisory board of the corporation voted to terminate the allowance effective October this year due to the limited resources of the corporation.
The Healthcare Corp. was only appropriated $5 million for the current fiscal year. Babauta, being the corporation's CEO, has the authority to accept or reject the board's recommendation.
“For me, it may be wise if we will just temporarily stop it or reduce it by 50 percent so it gives us time to reassess our finances.but not totally scrapping it,” he told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
He also acknowledged that the housing benefit was formulated as enticement to medical professionals who are needed on the island.
The housing perk was provided for many years by the CNMI government, through the then Department of Public Health, for those hired from off-island. It amounts to $600 monthly for single staff and $800 monthly for those with families. Under the law, this benefit is provided depending upon the availability of funds.
Affected employees disclosed to Saipan Tribune last Friday that the benefit has been delayed for six months now-from March to August. They also complained that they're being kept in the dark on the real status of the benefit.
The housing allowance, Saipan Tribune learned, represents 20 percent of the net take home pay of most nurses.
Babauta yesterday reiterated his concern to affected employees, but admitted that he cannot immediately say when they will be paid by the corporation.
He disclosed that part of the delay on his decision on the housing benefit is the completion of the corporation's financial assessment.
“That's part of the delay: I want to see how we advance financially to see our ability to pay the housing allowance. But right now, it's not looking good and we're still trying to beef up our collection, we try to put a system that is more permanent so we can bill more,” he said.
Babauta emphasized that he and the board have no intention of ignoring the concerns of affected employees.
“It's not a deliberate intent to keep them in the dark.me and the board are continuously discussing and planning about it.”
Affected employees interviewed by Saipan Tribune admitted that with the uncertainty of the allowance, coupled with other challenges at the hospital, they are considering other options.
Board chair Joaquin Torres earlier told Saipan Tribune that whatever is owed by the corporation on the housing benefit of employees, will remain an obligation to be fulfilled once funds are identified.
The board recommended stopping the housing allowance effective Oct. 1, in time for the renewals of most employment contracts.
The decision whether the housing allowance will be incorporated in the new compensation package to be negotiated by individual employee will all depend on the CEO, according to the chairman.