CUC to CHCC: Pay $5M power bill

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Posted on Jul 22 2020

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The Commonwealth Utilities Corp, recently demanded that the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. pay $5 million of its power bill by Aug. 6, along with recommending that CHCC produce its own power for a total of six hours every day.

In a letter to CHCC last July 6, CUC stated that the Commonwealth Health Center should produce its own power using a generator. But that also poses problems for CHC, according to Warren Villagomez, director of CHCC’s Hospital and Public Health Preparedness Program. He said the hospital’s generator is 30 years old, along with the breaker panel.

“It’s a 30-year-old generator. …Six hours every day is going to max out the genset and it’s not just the machine, it’s also the services that we have that we’ll be providing,” said Villagomez. Services that could shut down should CHC run its generator for six hours every day would include surgery, emergency room, and the computed tomography scan (a medical imaging procedure), among others.

It is estimated that CHCC owes CUC a total of $40 million.

According to Esther Muña, CHCC chief executive officer, if you are using a generator as a source of power, you will need to have a backup generator, which CHCC does not have Also, the hospital has not been receiving their full allotments in fiscal year 2020, which is one other factor that prevents them from paying CUC, she added.

CHCC chief financial officer Derek Sasamoto said that CHCC fully intends to pay off the balance of what it owes CUC but that’s when there is wiggle room for CHCC to make the payment. However, CHCC also needs to pay for items like medical supplies that are needed at the hospital.

Muña also pointed out that CHCC has been asking the Legislature for help in the past about enabling it to pay CUC. “…If we spend more than what we have, then we›re not going to pay vendors, which are critical, which are non-government, like the suppliers of medical supplies, or staffing,” she said.

According to Muna, CHCC has been providing services without hesitation and even making sure that they don’t deny people service. “We’ve been getting 50 cents to the dollar of our services,” said Muna, adding that the hospital has also not received their entire allotment for fiscal year 2020. This prompted Muña to ask Sasamoto to come up with a list of what the central government owes CHCC.

Muna pointed out that, as it is, CHCC is shouldering by itself the cost of uncompensated care. “And we’re taking care of that without any additional funding.”

This, she said, should be a cost borne by the CNMI government. She said she has brought up the situation to the Legislature, that “isn’t it the responsibility of the CNMI government to take care of uncompensated care?”

CHCC board of trustees chair Lauri Ogumoro said it must be made clear that the hospital is a 24/7 operation, that people are still in the Intensive Care Unit and it’s different from other government establishments that can just shut off their lights at night.

Justine Nauta
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.

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