Outstanding public service

SEVERAL members of the community who have received their vaccine are impressed with the ongoing vaccination campaign conducted by CHCC, the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force and other first responders.

At the CHCC vaccination site, you will soon realize how well planned everything is, including parking. The facility is well equipped, and the procedure is easy to follow. In addition, the personnel’s professionalism is unmistakable. They are helpful and considerate. They are happy to help.

Since the beginning of this global public health crisis, the CNMI government has worked closely with medical experts and emergency responders here and abroad. Saipan is a mere 40-minute flight away from Guam — Micronesia’s transportation hub which is probably the primary reason why it has been hit hard by the pandemic. But as of Feb. 1st, there were only four individuals in isolation on Saipan, and it had been over five months since the last community transmission of Covid-19.

The system in place, especially at the Saipan international airport, has, for close to a year now, prevented an outbreak. (Based on FEMA projections, the CNMI would have had 6,500 Covid-19 cases by May 2020. As of May 19, 2020, the CNMI had 19 cases.)

Everything is in its proper place to keep the CNMI and its people safe. This requires capable leadership. But this issue, like most issues of the day, is caught in the swirl of politics and its partisan passions.

One day, however, a sober assessment of the CNMI’s response to this unprecedented global crisis will be written, and we are pretty sure that this administration, its task force, CHCC, its CEO (the well deserved winner of the Business Person of the Year Award), her team and the other front-line staff will be singled out for their efficiency and hard work — their grace under pressure.

Solutions and other problems

DO lawmakers, even newly elected members, need to hear, again, what CHCC has been saying all these years? Maybe. When it comes to politics, many of us seem to be afflicted with selective memory loss.

As CHCC and its predecessor, the late unlamented Department of Public Health, have repeatedly told lawmakers “since ever since,” public health needs adequate funding to provide services, including and especially medical referrals, that members of the public expect from their government. As its latest white paper would put it, CHCC “is mission-driven to provide care to all patients regardless of ability to pay, but this mission is still contingent on being sufficiently financed.” 

Twelve years ago, as the local economy continued to sink, the Department of Public Health was abolished so it could be replaced by a public healthcare corporation, CHCC, one of whose avowed goals was to be “as financially self-sufficient and independent of the Commonwealth Government as is possible.”

Passing the law that created CHCC was supposed to be one of the “solutions” to the NMI’s public health woes.

But as the Office of the Public Auditor noted in a report, what the CHCC law created in 2009 was a public corporation “with inadequate financial resources.” CHCC, moreover, had “insufficient organizational planning and information technology…infrastructure…[with] neither the technical expertise, nor the experience to manage a multimillion-dollar corporation, as evidenced by its initial months of delayed or postponed payroll, utilities, and tax payments, as well as a questionable contract with a stateside billing and collection firm. Adding to these complications, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services…conducted a…survey that identified seven areas of noncompliance related to quality of health care….”

CHCC, to be sure, has come a long way since then, but so far, it seems that not a lot of folks remember what truly helped turn things around for the healthcare corporation (besides the badly needed federal funding and other assistance secured by Congressman Kilili). We’re referring to an increase in local funding generated by an economy that enjoyed an oh-so brief recovery from 2013 to 2018.

Rep. Ivan A. Blanco is right. Reviving the economy “is the way to serve our people better.” However, we remain skeptical about the Legislature’s ability to “solve” a problem that it has, more often than not, misunderstood through all these years. This is the same branch of government behind the CHCC law, unfunded mandates, unenforceable laws, misestimated budgets, and a pay hike measure that resulted in pay cuts.


Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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