The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps left behind one of its members at the Commonwealth Health Center to ensure the hospital's continued certification with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, according to Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Juan N. Babauta
The team, composed of 16 members who were deployed to the hospital for a 90-day mentoring mission, left the islands last week but one member agreed to stay on and will serve as interim laboratory manager, a critical position that would automatically decertify the hospital if left vacant.
“Through our request, they maintained the PHS Commissioned Corps member behind. .Our goal is to make sure that there is no gap in the position because it would immediately put CHC out of Medicare compliance,” said Babauta.
Saipan Tribune learned that the interim lab manager, Lt. Christopher Le, is a biomedical and laboratory director and the assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He oversees the Nationwide Biomedical and Laboratory Program for three Mission Support Centers and nine regional facilities.
Babauta said that Le will remain for two more weeks while the corporation works on finding his replacement.
Babauta said the corporation has already sent a request to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs for funding assistance. Recruitment, he said, is also ongoing.
Another top priority for the corporation is to immediately hire a chief financial officer-one of the recommendations of the federal team's sustainability plan for the hospital, according to Babauta.
At the moment, the position is being held by Esther Muña, who is also the corporation's chief operating officer.
During Friday's meeting, board member Roy Rios asked Babauta about the findings of the medical team relating to the incumbent CFO. “Did they say she is not qualified for the position?” asked Rios.
Babauta replied that the “current position” has been identified as having weaknesses in the area of accelerating the hospital's ability to generate revenues.
“There are areas of weakness in her and the commissioned corps said that this weakness is significant enough to hire a CFO who has extensive background in hospital revenue cycle management. The team recommends that we have a CFO who is solely responsible for our financial matters,” said Babauta, adding that a CFO is key to strengthening the financial capability of the corporation.
Outdated billing codes
Corporation board vice chair Pedro Dela Cruz disclosed Friday that the Tinian and Rota health centers are still using outdated billing codes that date back to 2008, which is why the centers are encountering many billing disputes.
“Billing and coding departments are so behind in the two centers because codes are outdated? How can that be improved if they don't have access [to the corporation's new system]?” asked Dela Cruz.
Babauta said that the corporation-which include both centers-is on its way to automation through the electronic health record system. He blamed the delay on the lack of staff in both centers.
Although not automated yet, Babauta said the two centers now generate monthly revenues of up to $40,000, compared to the $10,000 a month it used to collect before it became part of the corporation.