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Muna: NMI will bring people back to work

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres, his cabinet, the Covid-19 Task Force, and U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan will see to it that the CNMI people will go back to work, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna told the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

“Help us get there,” she added.

The committee is chaired by U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.  Kilili is its vice chairman.

In her remarks, Muna said CHCC in January “began messaging coronavirus prevention in our community and screening patients for symptoms. In early February, CHCC sent our first specimen for coronavirus testing nearly 8,000 miles away to Atlanta. It took 10 days to receive the negative result. Over the next month, the healthcare corporation took steps to reduce traffic on our campus, incorporated coronavirus screening into its regular disease surveillance at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport, and on March 16, CHCC activated its Area Operations Command, diverting nearly a third of its staff to the response. On March 28, the CNMI announced its first two positive cases, with 12 more cases confirmed since then.”

Muna said in the past 40 days, with support from the governor, his Covid-19 Task Force, and CHCC staff, “CHCC has screened more than 500 walk-in patients for coronavirus symptoms; screened more than 1,500 passengers at the airport; identified and interviewed more than 215 contacts of positive cases; responded to more than 700 phone calls about the coronavirus; overseen the care and release of more than 250 individuals from quarantine and isolation; had more than 300 specimens tested, including more than 200 at our own lab; and conducted more than 90 tele-consults with patients.”

Three days ago, Muna said the CNMI began conducting community-based testing, and has collected samples from more than 400 people.

Of the 14 confirmed Covid-19 cases, two have died, and the other 12 have recovered, Muna said.

“It has been nearly two weeks since our most recent case was identified. We have been vigilant. We have been effective, but we are still vulnerable,” she added.

“The CNMI is uniquely susceptible to upheaval should we experience a larger outbreak. The virus undercuts the power of our social capital — built on family gatherings, multi-generational households, and close relationships with our manamko’. It lays bare our non-communicable disease crisis, and threatens to tear away the gains we have made to our healthcare system. It has evaporated our livelihood, throwing our tourism-based economy into swift and acrimonious decline. The CNMI government is shut down, and is projecting a 65-million-dollar deficit. The island schools closed, many public and private employees have been furloughed, unemployment is skyrocketing, [and] the retiree pensions [were] cut 25%, rendering healthcare unaffordable for so many families,” Muna said.

She told the U.S. House committee that the success of CHCC thus far “is the result of a Herculean effort, requiring nearly 18,000 staff hours and over 7 million dollars.”

“Thanks to support from the governor and the Covid-19 Task Force and the federal partnership with HHS and DoD through FEMA, and further supported by the CARES Act, we have been able to secure additional ventilators, PPE, laboratory equipment, testing reagents, established a temporary 40-bed care site, and a longer term alternate care site. We have received help to assess [the] surge [in] our staffing needs and develop a territorial action plan. We can now test for the coronavirus on-island — an ability that felt far from our reach just one month ago. This assistance has been core to our success, but we need continued federal assistance to put an end to this war,” Muna said.

She added that CHCC must fulfill its “regular obligations while balancing the coronavirus response, and forging an ambiguous future to prepare for the worst.”

“Our strengths and our weaknesses are brought into focus while the disruption has sparked innovation and illuminated opportunities for improvement,” she said.

“We are in ample supply of vision and determination, but we need your help to establish a reliable, equitable supply chain for PPE and testing reagents. We need funding to keep our staff, including our robust contact tracing team, at work.  We need support for the long-overdue expansion and modernization of our 35-year-old hospital.”

 

 

 

 

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