About two years ago, the CNMI Department of Public Health and the Commonwealth Health Center were converted to an autonomous government corporation under the name Commonwealth Health Care Corp. The legislation establishing CHCC intended the new public corporation to be revenue generating and self-sustaining. As a line department of the Executive Branch previously, the department was receiving an annual appropriation of about $30 million from the Legislature. The law establishing CHCC, in contrast, gave the new corporation a startup fund of only $5 million and only for one year. After that, CHCC had to be financially independent.
Many of us have questioned over the last two years the wisdom of the Legislature in giving the new CHCC only $5 million in seed money to do the work of a line department that was previously receiving $30 million in annual appropriation. We have watched with alarm as the hospital’s doctors and professional staff began to dwindle to a skeleton staff. Doctors and nurse were leaving in droves, in fear that the new ship—CHCC—would sink. After two of the most trying years in CNMI public health history, the new management persevered, however, and never lost hope. Amidst all the public criticisms, the new management headed by former governor Juan N. Babauta stood tall and continued to do its best to get out of the financial mess that it inherited from the new legislation and from past years of poor financial mismanagement.
To be sure, Mr. Babauta and his managers and staff had to rely on the help and cooperation of the doctors and nurses who stayed, as well as from the U.S. Public Health Service officers and staff who came to assist and rescue CHCC. Although the CHCC is still far from solving all of its problems and shortcomings, we can now say with some degree of certainty that the CHC hospital and public health service in the CNMI is no longer in danger of falling apart. And this fact, in and of itself, is a source of comfort for the people of the CNMI.
With the new administration of Gov. Eloy Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude Hofschneider, some of the critics of CHCC are now calling for a change in the present CHCC management, including the removal of Mr. Babauta. We fail to realize, however, that it was through Mr. Babauta’s leadership during the past two years that CHCC has survived and is now on track to overcoming its past financial predicament. We also fail to realize that the legislation giving CHCC seed money of only $5 million was the main reason that created its near collapse during its first year. Critics of CHCC fail to realize that "changing horses in midstream" is never a good idea, especially now when CHCC has started the process of putting in place the necessary tools, training and staff that should within the next two years make CHCC financially self-sustaining. Let’s give the present management team headed by Mr. Babauta the opportunity to prove that they can do the job.
At one time the CHC hospital had more than enough doctors, nurses, and professional staff servicing our people. I truly believe that, in two to three years, we will once again see our hospital and public health service regain the stature and prominence it used to have.