The morale of all CW-1 staff of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., especially that of its staff nurses, remains high, assured chief executive officer Esther L. Muña, as they are optimistic that a U.S. bill that would extend their stay in the Commonwealth, H.R. 5956, would become law before fiscal year 2018 ends in Sept. 30.
H.R. 5956, which aims to extend the CNMI-Only worker visa program, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The bill hopes to extend the program by 10 more years and increase the number of available foreign worker slots to 13,000.
Muña said they always inform their staff of what steps are being done to ensure that they remain in the CNMI.
“We communicate with our staff. We’re letting them know that we’re providing them with the support,” said Muña. “That’s what is important right now. You can see that the morale has not really gone low. …[We] let them know that everything is being done to make them stay.”
She added that all of the hospital’s 111 nurses who were not included in the lottery system implemented by U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services in awarding work permits want to remain.
“They [nurses] don’t want to leave. [Like] Susan [De Vera], this is her second home. She’s still CW1 but she’s also getting processed. Every CW1 [staff] at CHCC is being processed,” said Muña. “As I was explaining to someone, it is the financial situation of CHCC [and] the struggles of the CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) certification that has caused us to delay these [employee-based] visas. Now that we’re in a better position, getting them a more permanent status has been our top priority.”
She added that finances had always been one of their issues. “It does cost money…We’ve gone over other hurdles and now this is basically our top priority. To have our nurses get a permanent status.”
Nurses in the hospital ward are the most affected by the current CW1 cap. “This is a critical department. That’s our major operations since they work 24/7. Imagine if they will be missing.”
Exhausting all efforts
Muña said they remain optimistic with the bill’s chances of becoming law before fiscal year 2019 begins on Oct. 1. “We’re excited for the passing of H.R. 5956. But we’re also looking at other things. A lot of other options. We have some resources that we’re going to make sure to make them come back, whatever happens. [This was] the desire expressed by the staff. If the bill becomes a law or not, we want them to come back.”
She said that they are not going to stop transitioning CW1 visa holders to H1-B visas. “There are two pathways, the employee-based visas and the CW1. This [CW1] is unstable and the other one takes a while.”
“We’re excited for the bill’s passing and this is one step closer to help the hospital’s needs. We’re trying to ensure our nurses to have H1Bs. [But] right now, their CWs are expiring on Sept. 30. If the bill is not passed, they would have to leave.”
“Basically, whatever happens with the bill, this month, we’re going to make a decision and they too will be making a decision whether they would stay and wait,” said Muña.
“They want assurance that there are things going on and something is being done. And so far, from my conversations from a lot of nurses, they trust and are very optimistic with [Gov. Ralph DLG Torres] and [Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan] supporting the bill.”
“They [nurses] are optimistic that something is going to happen. It is important since they are providing patient care. You want them to remain in a positive mood and not worried about their status when they are taking care of our patients.”