Torres allegedly urged Muña’s ouster

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres reportedly asked the newly formed Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board last week to terminate the corporation’s chief executive officer, Esther Muña.

When asked about it, Muña told Saipan Tribune that she has not been personally asked by Torres nor the CHCC board to step down from her position as CEO, and indicated that even if she was, she has no plans to do so.

“I have no intention of resigning,” Muña said in an interview yesterday. She added that her position is not as simple as others may think, and included in the long list of responsibilities of the CEO is taking care of patients alongside taking care of employees.

“…There’s a lot of layers involved in this job,” she said. …“It’s working with what you’ve got, so it’s not an easy job.”

The Torres administration did not immediately respond to Saipan Tribune’s request for comments.

CHCC board chair Lauri Ogumoro declined to confirm the allegation nor give details in a phone call yesterday, aside from saying that that the CHCC board is working with the Office of the Governor.

“We are working with [Governor Torres] on determining plans for the hospital,” said Ogumoro, adding that she does not want to comment any further “…because the board is working through these issues.,”

In a letter to Torres by a CHCC physician who wishes not to be named and written on behalf of the medical staff of CHCC, said that they collectively wish for an opportunity to comment on Torres’ alleged request to “replace” Muña.

“Although we are not privy to any specific concerns you have about the current hospital governance, we do feel it vital to express our concerns regarding any abrupt change. All of us deal with the frustrations involved in working in a resource-limited environment, and all of us spend enormous amounts of personal time in improving the healthcare we feel privileged to deliver,” the letter states, a copy of which Saipan Tribune had obtained. “We reflect on the state of care available only a few short years ago, and feel the need to acknowledge that we would not have come this far without the unique efforts of [Muña].”

While the letter did not openly support Muña’s continued role as hospital CEO and acknowledged that there is no perfect organization, it warned Torres that fixing what isn’t broken may lead to “irreparable harm” and even the possible loss of medical professionals, ultimately impacting healthcare as a whole.

“Indeed, if new blood would serve to reinvigorate our progress and solve some of our more persistent issues, we could only applaud the result. However, we feel it would be calamitous to do so in a disorderly fashion, and fear that any precipitous action would result in irreparable harm to our immediate function, with loss of professional staff and hospital function a real possibility,” the letter states, adding that the consequences would likely bring “lasting harm” to the patients, the community, and to the island overall.

The letter suggested that a search for a qualified replacement to Muña be “begun in a professional manner,” adding that candidates for her position should be vetted thoroughly. According to the letter, Muña’s replacement—if the CHCC board does proceed to terminate the CEO—should have at least five or more years experience in managing a hospital of a similar or larger size.

The search for Muña’s replacement, the letter said, must not be limited to candidates in the CNMI but to the whole country.

“We absolutely feel that it is unacceptable to settle for lesser qualifications for reason of expediency or obligation. Our patients, our staff, and our families, deserve the most highly qualified leadership we can possibly find and we would be honor-bound not to succumb to more petty gratifications,” the letter added.

In a previous message to the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, Torres expressed dissatisfaction with Muña’s decision to “prioritize $200,000 for the renovation of the hospital’s new outpatient pharmacy” over the purchase of new equipment for its existing inpatient pharmacy.

“I advise CHCC to prudently determine and manage its financial priorities for the benefit of our patients and the vitality of our island’s only hospital. I remain open as always to discuss ways to achieve this purpose in coordination with the Legislature,” he said in the same statement to the delegation.

Torres’ statement to the delegation also quoted a “separate statement” that he is disappointed with Muña for not prioritizing the procurement of “vital equipment” for the hospital.

“If CHCC is in need of vital equipment to better serve our patients and community, then that should have been taken cared of first, rather than to prioritize the renovation of an outpatient pharmacy when an existing pharmacy is still there within the hospital to provide outpatient services,” he said.

“I will continue to ensure that essential healthcare services will be adequately funded for the hospital this year, but I will not tolerate the current management’s lack of financial priorities,” he added.

Last Jan. 11, 2018, CHCC officially opened its outpatient pharmacy.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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