Despite their objections, staff and management of the Commonwealth Health Center expressed themselves ready to move forward and work on the next steps to implement Public Law 19-78.
The new law repeals and reenacts the 2011 law that established the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which runs CHC. Among many other changes to the law, PL 19-78 establishes a board to govern, manage, and control the corporation.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres enacted House Bill 19-186 HD1 into Public Law 19-78 on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, with reservations.
According to Dr. Ngoc-Phuong Luu, Medical Director of the Division of Public Health, “The history of difficulties with the CNMI’s healthcare system spans decades, but we believe at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. that we have hit a tipping point and are finally moving forward. I just hope that PL 19-78 won’t alter this trajectory.”
Dr. John Tudela, director of Medical Affairs, added, “I’m uncertain about how this complete overhaul of the laws under which we operate will affect us. However, we will do our best to respectfully and patiently communicate to the board…the intricacies of the CHCC’s operations, and we hope the new board extends to us the same courtesy.”
At the Dec. 6, 2016, Senate session, senators acknowledged that there are significant deficiencies in the bill. Many senators made public assurances that amendments will be made by the 20th Legislature to remedy these deficiencies before voting unanimously to pass the bill.
“We brought attention to legitimate issues with the bill to the Senate, so members made promises to make amendments as soon as possible after they passed it. It seems counter-intuitive to do it this way, but we’re eager to begin working with the 20th Legislature on these improvements as soon as possible,” said Kaitlyn Neises, special assistant for Policy, Sustainability, and Development.
The law stipulates a six-month transition period after the board is “fully organized.” The governor has yet to assign new board members for the hospital. The previous board is effectively dissolved. During this period, the new board members are to familiarize themselves with the management process and programs of the corporation. At the end of the six-month period, the management and control of the corporation is to be transferred to the board.
“We had reservations on the bill, but it has passed, so we are looking to move forward. We will continue to work toward providing better health care; in spite of interludes, we will not quit. We believe that an excellent healthcare system and a healthy population is possible in the CNMI. We won’t stop aspiring toward these goals,” said CHCC CEO Esther Muna.