If and when confirmed by the Senate, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s four nominees to the first Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board of directors will face serious challenges that include maintaining a budget of at least $22 million for the next two years, upgrading hospital facilities and equipment, and creating a health insurance exchange under Obama’s healthcare reform.
The four nominees—Joaquin S. Torres and Roy T. Rios of Saipan, Anthony H. Aguon of Tinian, and Pedro Q. Dela Cruz of Rota—faced the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigation at a public hearing on their nomination yesterday on Capital Hill.
They all vowed to work hard and use their skills, knowledge, and experience in moving the healthcare corporation forward.
Dr. Jon Joyner, senior policy adviser to the governor and lieutenant governor, presented the four nominees to the Senate EAGI Committee chaired by Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian).
Cruz, during a question-and-answer, asked the nominees whether they are aware and approve of their role, should they be confirmed, as an “advisory” board and not a “governing” board.
The nominees said while they do not have a problem with the way the law is currently written, they would want it amended later.
Joyner said the nominees were chosen after consultation with their respective delegations.
“These nominees bring to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation Board of Trustees innovative approaches to healthcare management and education that will prove to reduce our morbidity levels of diabetes, stroke, heart problems, and cancer,” Joyner said.
Former governor Juan N. Babauta, now one of Fitial’s special advisers, testified at the public hearing and laid out the challenges faced by the nominees and the healthcare corporation besides asking the senators to expedite the nominees’ confirmation.
Babauta said that the Commonwealth Health Center, Rota Health Center, and Tinian Health Center are all nearly 30 years old and needing rehabilitation.
“The federal government gave us nearly $30 million to build and equip it. It is ours and we should take care of it. We are blessed with this but at the same time we should bear some responsibility as well,” he said.
He also cited the need to replace or upgrade big-ticket equipment such as generator, boiler, bio-medical equipment, X-ray, elevators and incinerator. He said there’s also a need to quickly find an alternative energy source, given that CHC alone pays some $2.4 million in utilities a year.
The Department of Public Health’s budget has dropped from $42 million in fiscal year 2006 to $5 million in fiscal year 2012.
“We are generating roughly 15 cents to 20 cents on the dollar. We need to generate more than that,” Babauta said.
He also said the CNMI needs a comprehensive policy for providing healthcare services for the indigent because under the law, the corporation cannot deny anyone medical care.
Babauta cited as an example of a challenge some 20 patients on dialysis, all of whom are non-CNMI, non-U.S. citizens and have no money to pay for care. They are receiving $1.2 million in care a year.
“We need to negotiate payment with their respective governments because this is unsustainable for CHCC,” he said.
Babauta also asked for a legislative oversight hearing and come up with solutions on the Medicaid program.
When asked whether Babauta is willing to serve as chief executive officer of the healthcare corporation, he said “no comment.”