The medical director for the Public Health Division, who also sits as a member of the CNMI Medical Referral Program committee, is urging the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. to formulate a plan on how to get at least half of the millions of dollars the government spends to send patients outside the Commonwealth.
Dr. Dan Lamar disclosed that a large number of referred patients each year are sent to off-island medical facilities despite the fact that many of the services they need can be obtained at the Commonwealth Health Center.
He described this situation as “truly disappointing” and “makes no sense at all” for a government that wants its lone public hospital to be self-sustaining and efficient.
Saipan Tribune earlier reported that the CNMI government spent $5.274 million in 2013 to refer 732 patients off-island for treatment. Of these referrals, the bulk was sent to Guam hospitals, with 442 patients; the Philippines, 211 referrals; Hawaii, 62; and U.S. mainland, 17.
Lamar pointed out that CHC has more staff than ever and owns some—if not all—the medical equipment needed to treat patients who are being sent off-island.
“We could do those [services] here in our hospital and by doing so, we could capture the income now being paid elsewhere by the government,” said Lamar.
He said the medical referral fund is a “huge investment” that CHCC could use to procure more equipment and hire specialists.
This could be done, Lamar said, if the hospital management and board are committed to push for this.
“We should shift our thinking and it will only happen if people push for it. The corporation [board] has influence on the central government to make the change,” he said.
The medical referral program is currently under the Office of the Governor.
Lamar believes that if the corporation captures even half of the $6 million to $7 million that is spent each year on off-island referrals, “we will be doing less referrals if those money comes into the corporation.”
The physician cited as an example the need to procure an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, which is a diagnostic imaging tool.
At a recent board meeting, interim corporation CEO Esther Muña admitted that CHC remains short of specialists to handle all medically referred patients.
But the CEO agrees that any investment made by the government on the hospital would boost CHC’s capabilities to provide needed services and treatment.
Muña also cited the rigorous process of bringing in specialists and medical staff who all need to go through the licensing board. The issue of low salaries was also cited as one of the reasons for the difficulty in bringing in needed experts.