In existence for just slightly over a year, the newly created Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. faced its biggest challenges in 2013, shaken by operational challenges that included personal and political differences between and among the top management and its board of trustees.
Just at the start of the year, the corporation’s first CEO, Juan N. Babauta, was put in the limelight following the board of trustees’ expression of dissatisfaction with his performance—the same board that selected and approved his $96,000 contract as the organization’s chief executive officer.
The flames of controversy got further fanned when a confidential survey was done among CHCC personnel on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota in February, with the objective of getting the personnel’s input on the CEO’s evaluation.
A host of issues were raised against Babauta, including unjustified salary increases for selected individuals; non-remittance of personnel allotments; the continued hiring of non-essential staff despite an emergency reduction-in-force policy; and the lack of an effective “linkage” from the management to the board, among other concerns.
On March 21, the board of trustees voted not to renew Babauta’s contract, which was supposed to expire on July 9. The board later rescinded its first decision and just terminated his contract effective April 30. Esther Muña, the hospital’s chief operating officer, was named his successor.
Challenges continued at the public hospital with the high turnover rate of doctors and nurses, losing 12 physicians in a span of 12 months—without immediate replacements. At one point, CHCC had only 21 doctors for three islands and a nursing workforce that went down to just 130.
Coupled with its financial situation, the corporation also faced difficulties in addressing the serious deficiencies found by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which sanctioned the public hospital with three immediate jeopardy statuses during a September 2012 survey visit.
The corporation has already submitted its corrective plans for the hospital but the threat of decertification of CHC’s Condition of Participation with CMMS has yet to go away pending the final decision of the federal agency.
Also notable in 2013 was the entry of various assistance—both local and federal—to help resolve the deficiencies uncovered at the hospital. Among the important help received by CHCC this year is the “rescue mission” by the U.S. Commissioned Corp that provided logistics and technical experts who stayed at CHC for 90 days. The $3 million loan sought from the Marianas Public Land Trust was also realized as well as the CIP monies for important hospital equipment and tools.