Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 07 Dec 2019 12am







    Saturday, December 7, 2019-9:00:58P.M.






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UPDATED: Paralyzed child fights for survival

GOVERNOR Benigno R. Fitial is not alone in his current fight for survival. As he battles against an impeachment process, a young, paralyzed child on a ventilator relies for life on the kindness of strangers.

ICUTucked away in the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s intensive care unit lies a sweet-faced little girl, stricken with paralysis for unknown reasons,  kept alive by a ventilator that forces air into the lungs via a hole in the base of her throat.

However, air is not the biggest hurdle for the unconscious child but instead, it is nutrition.

At present, CHC has no PediaSure — a nutritional liquid — to feed the gravely ill child and so, her indigent parents must beg for donations from pharmacies and the community.

“This is an ‘in-your-face’ example of the hospital’s collapse…the consequences of substandard care will result in patients deaths one way or the other,” said one disgusted and exhausted hospital employee on  condition of anonymity.

This child is the second reported case of an intensive care patient  surviving because of the compassion of family and strangers.

Variety last month highlighted a similar case of an ICU adult patient that also needed intravenous liquid nutrition that the family was forced to purchase because CHC’s medical supply office was a full            50 percent low on supplies and medicines.

A private clinic doctor when told of the ICU situation posed the question of whether the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would label the crises as a “withholding of food,” a major violation of certification rules.

As if these two cases were not frightening enough, another patient admitted to ICU due to severe diabetic complications was being fed non-diabetic meals.

“Can you imagine providing sugar-loaded nutrition to a diabetic in ICU? This isn’t a hospital, it’s a nut house led by the chief lunatic, CEO [Juan N.] Babauta,” said another employee with detailed knowledge of the hospital’s dysfunction.

A fourth example of CHC’s implosion and the real-life consequences concerns an infant that died in the hospital recently.

The baby needed an echocardiogram, which is a sound-wave test to create a moving picture of the heart and provides a more detailed image than a plain x-ray that emits no radiation.

Unfortunately, the EC technician was off-island and no one else was cross-trained to do the test.

While it cannot be said that the infant died as a direct result of not having an EC, the lack thereof was an important part of correctly diagnosing the baby’s illness.

One last anecdote of the patient experience at CHC involved a visiting Catholic nun.

While Variety yesterday interviewed CHC board chairman Jack Torres outside the hospital’s administration offices, an elderly woman and her escort approached the glass window with a grievance and requested to speak with cashier staff.

According to the escort, the nun had just finished a nephrology appointment that cost $379; the patient’s portion totaled $79, equal to her  20 percent insurance co-pay.

The escort, who asked Variety to withhold identification, explained they were at the CHC administration’s service window to ask for a list of costs for services as the nun’s last appointment had cost $100 with a co-pay of $25.

“How can anyone, even with insurance, afford a cost jump from $100 to $379 when the    co-pay is a set 20 percent?” stated the escort in disbelief.

Variety introduced the escort to Torres who seemed surprised at the massive jump in rates while reviewing the nun’s billing paperwork.

“I’ll definitely be discussing the matter this afternoon with the CEO,” said Torres as he jotted details down in a notebook.

From murmurings in the hospital though, the decision to offer self-payers an on-the-spot 20 percent rate discount had already been agreed to by the CEO.

To the misfortune of the visiting nun, the business office manager neglected to communicate and authorize the cashiers to offer the discount to patients.

As Torres acknowledged, “Communication has to improve within this hospital.”

Word is leaking out

According to local Japanese tourism executives, the largest Japan-based package tour agency recently sent a manager to Saipan to visit personally the hospital in an effort to verify serious concerns about the emergency room.

Although the visitor found an “open” ER, the feedback from tourists waiting to see a doctor was anything but positive.

“We waited three hours with our child who had a cut in his mouth and the ER staff simply gave us the number of the Seventh-Day Adventist Dental Clinic, a piece of gauze and sent us away,” explained one family to the inspecting tour agency manager.

The experience filled the tourists with frustration and bewilderment while costing their Japanese insurance company some $160 for the short visit.

One CHC physician wondered aloud, “How long before Japanese and other non-CNMI insurance companies refuse to pay hundreds of dollars for CHC’s ER to advise tourists to use honey for a bronchitis cough and gauze for lacerations?”

Meanwhile, as word spreads through the tourism industry of a lack of adequate emergency care and supplies, the Legislature has proposed no funding for the hospital to date in the FY ’13 budget bill.

To add insult to injury, the Marianas Public Lands Trust has steadfastly refused to approve any further CHC credit-line drawdowns because no confidence exists in a payback plan.

Only a few days ago, Variety quoted MPLT consultant as saying that its board had only approved a $4.58 million drawdown to date, not $11.58 million as claimed by Babauta and the executive branch.

The $4.58 million included a $1.58 million allocation for the electronic health record system and $3 million cash drawdown CHC tapped last spring.

In other words, there is no additional MPLT funds approved for CHC and this explains why Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ letter to MPLT three weeks ago asking for a $2.2 million immediate cash-infusion was met with nothing but silence.

Babauta’s broken promise

In an initial interview with Variety last October, chief executive officer Juan N. Babauta assured the community he had accepted the governor’s appointment as an act of community service and that he would not draw a salary.

During a brief interview yesterday with Variety, the former governor confirmed he was currently drawing a paycheck but declined to name the amount.

“The Retirement Fund cut my pension four months ago and I was forced to draw a CHC salary starting from the last pay period…. I plan to take the Fund to court to have my pension reinstated,” explained Babauta concerning the reason for negating his promise to serve “gratis” as CEO.

Variety requested confirmation from Press Secretary Angel Demapan, that Fitial had signed a contract for Babauta but no reply was offered by press time.

On another personnel matter, Babauta confirmed that CHC’s chief financial and administrative officer Alvaro Santos has tendered his resignation in an effort to preserve his Retirement Fund pension.

“Yes, the CFO is transitioning out of the position but agreed to remain on until someone else can assume the responsibilities so we avoid a vacuum,” stated Babauta.

Bright spots

The CEO yesterday also confirmed to Variety that today’s payroll will be met although no details were disclosed regarding the payment of housing allotments or retirement and health insurance premiums.

Additionally, Variety had the opportunity of meeting briefly two consultants from    HealthTech who just arrived     on-island for the CHC assessment.

The consultants, who hail from Tennessee and Texas, agreed to a sit down with Variety next week to outline their assessment work and introduce themselves and relevant abilities to the community.

The crucial role of the NMI’s only hospital was evident to the HealthTech executives.

“The plane trip was a very long one, so yes, it’s obvious how important this facility is to the community’s health and we’re here to help ensure its long-term survival with an assessment,” stated Ronald C. Winger, regional vice president, HealthTech Management Services.

Unfortunately, for the paralyzed child in need of liquid nourishment in CHC’s ICU, the assessment is no help in  her immediate struggle for survival.

CHC statement

On Friday, CHC issued the following statement in reaction to the numerous calls, texts, emails and online comments inquiring about the young patient:

"The community response to the paralyzed girl in need of liquid nourishment currently on a ventilator in CHC's ICU has been overwhelming. CHC has advised the Variety that anyone wishing to make a donation of PediaSure may drop same off at CHC's dietary department and/or other medical supplies to the CHC medical supply office warehouse located on Lower Base Road (behind the Department of Land and Natural Resources). Thank you to all who have stepped forward to heed the little girl's need for community love and support."