After the lights went out for several hours at Saipan’s Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation last week, CNMI government officials are now in talks on a long-term solution to get CNMI’s only public hospital out of debt.
As of this month, the hospital owes roughly around $34 million to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, CNMI Governor Ralph Torres said in a media briefing last week. The amount includes late and penalty fees.
While talks continue on a long term solution for the hospital debts, on Thursday, the CUC and CHCC board signed a contract on a payment arrangement to immediately restore power to the hospital.
Aside from the hospital and utility board, the Governor and the CNMI AG also signed the agreement.
“What we agreed was a term of payment arrangement. The government will pay $150,000 and CHCC will pay the rest. We will make sure that we will do this before every 8th of every month. At the same time it will give us a few more months to address the arrears,” Gov. Torres said.
Torres says CHCC’s payment counterpart depends on the monthly billing every month.
“This kind of underscores the importance of us continuing to work with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure that CHCC receives appropriations. Without it, we continue to operate in an underfunded environment,” Esther Muna, the CHCC CEO said on the collaboration between government entities to address the hospital’s utility debts.
There is also a move to reclassify the public hospital from a government to a commercial utility rate to further decrease its monthly power bill. But according to Torres, the proposal should go through the Legislature.
“But this is something that we should seriously look at,” he said.