Putting the hospital on emergency generator power for six hours every day is dangerous as hospital patients are potentially put at risk, according to Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), who urged Gov. Ralph DLG Torres yesterday to intervene.
This comes soon after the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. disconnected the power supply Tuesday to the Commonwealth Health Center for non-payment of utility bills. The power outage is being implemented every day for six hours, starting from 12pm to 6pm, until the CUC and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which runs the hospital, agree on a payment plan for CHCC.
In a letter to Torres, Manglona said that CHC’s emergency generator operation’s capability and emergency fuel supply are being significantly compromised and that power quality disturbances such as power surges, spikes, sags, or blackouts can cripple medical equipment and place the care of patients at serious risk.
“It is very alarming that during this unprecedented crisis, the first victim from our government financial belt-tightening is our hospital,” he said.
Manglona asked Torres to immediately address this financial tussle between CHCC and CUC. “We cannot leave it up to the two corporations to settle their long-running dispute,” said the senator, adding that for many years the fiscal budget allotted to CHCC are not realistic figures on the true cost of hospital operations that must be factored into the budget formula.
Manglona said there is no doubt that the CNMI’s practice of omitting or knowingly under-budgeting known, unavoidable costs from the hospital budget—including interisland medical referral services, Medicaid-matching requirements, CHCC indigent care costs, and government utilities—have been the main reason for CHCC’s past due utility billing.
Manglona noted that CUC did the disconnection Tuesday—two days after Torres assured the public that there will be no reduction in power supply to CHCC. While he understands that CUC does not have the luxury or financial ability to continue supplying more than $400,000 per month worth of electricity to CHCC, cutting power supply to CHCC in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic “is frightening,” he said.
Manglona pointed out that Commonwealth leaders, including Finance Secretary David Atalig, were aware of CHCC’s non-payment issue for years now. Manglona said he believes the total past due amount owed by CHCC is more than $30 million.
What is even more disturbing and frightening is CUC’s present electricity generation infrastructure situation, the senator said. He said CUC’s maximum power production is around 50 megawatts, without power engine No. 5, which is still down.
Manglona said Aggreko’s 12-megawatts temporary electric power supply contract is expiring at the end of this month, and that, without Aggreko’s engines, there will be no island power reserve.
He said the continued delay of CUC’s aging generators’ long overdue maintenance does not help. “These will eventually translate to rolling blackouts in the near future as CUC’s production capability will be well below consumer demand,” the senator said.
Manglona said he is confident that, by working together with CUC and CHCC, and making this a top priority, the government can put the hospital and health care services as well as the utility corporation back on a sustainable fiscal course.
“We know that if our people believe and trust that we are putting their best interests in mind, they will be behind us and be more willing to accept the tough austerity measures we impose because we are seriously and reasonably confronting the magnitude of our fiscal dilemma,” he said.