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CUC disconnects hospital from power grid

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THE Commonwealth Utilities Corp. at 12 noon Tuesday  disconnected the hospital from the CUC power grid for six hours after the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. failed to pay $250,000 for utilities.

CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna told Variety that CHCC paid $50,000 to CUC.

She said because of the disconnection, surgeries  scheduled for Tuesday had to be cancelled.

As of press time, Muna said they were still assessing what other hospital operations and services had to be cancelled because of the power disconnection.

The hospital had to use its backup generator starting at 12 noon Tuesday.

In a letter to CUC Executive Director Gary Camacho and the CUC board, Muna said CHCC will still honor what they have agreed during a meeting with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on Aug. 27.

The letter, which was also signed by CHCC board chair Lauri Ogumoro, was sent to CUC shortly after CHCC’s power was disconnected.

They said the settlement agreement drafted by CUC was inaccurate. 

According to Muna, CHCC agreed to pay $50,000 per month “plus actual usage by federal programs.” The central government, for its part, will pay $150,000 to CUC on behalf of CHCC every month, for a total of $200,000.

Muna said during the meeting with the governor, the discussion about arrears was tabled for further discussion.

“The issue under discussion at the meeting with the governor was current billings,” she said.

“But somehow, when it came to drafting the agreement, CUC added in all sorts of claims that were never discussed, such as the total amount owed in arrears, as if this were an agreed upon number, and consequences for late or missing payments with immediate termination of services, regardless of the situation and with no requirement for notice,” the CHCC officials stated in their letter.

Muna said CHCC has also drafted a proposed agreement, which “reflected the accurate discussion” with the Office of the Governor.

“The board and CEO of CHCC want to proceed in good faith,” she added. “We will make our payments as agreed upon in the meeting with the governor. Meanwhile, we urge the CUC board and executive director to work with us on preparing an agreement that accurately reflects the events as they transpired at the meeting with the governor.”

Unseemly

CHCC appealed to CUC to work on an agreement that accurately reflects what transpired in the meeting.

“If CUC wants to meet with the governor and CHCC to discuss the issue of arrears, we are more than willing to do so,” Muna said.

“It is unseemly to have these two very important semi-autonomous corporations publicly fighting during a time of already heightened tensions in a pandemic,” she added.

“This is a serious health pandemic and CHCC has been working persistently throughout with the governor and his staff and the Emergency Command,” she said.

During a press briefing on Friday, the governor said CUC and CHCC had agreed on a monthly payment schedule, adding that the hospital would not be disconnected from CUC’s power grid.

Torres said the central government would help CHCC pay its monthly utilities.

“The governor was rightly concerned about the perception of these two most important public entities being at loggerheads and undermining confidence in the government at this crucial time,” Muna said.

Reconnected

In a separate interview, CUC Executive Director Gary Camacho said he sent one crew  to CHCC to disconnect its  power supply at noon, Tuesday.

"The power will be reconnected by 6 p.m.," he said, but added that CUC will also charge the hospital disconnection and reconnection fees daily.

He cited the CUC board resolution on Aug. 20, which states that if the hospital fails to comply with the payment agreement, CUC will disconnect CHCC's utilities, except for the hospital grounds, for six hours daily.

On Friday, the CUC board gave CHCC until Tuesday, Sept. 8, to pay $250,000, or it would implement the disconnection policy approved by the CUC board in August.

Camacho said the administration remitted $150,000 as promised by Governor Torres.

"The governor's commitment was definitely paid, and we like to extend our appreciation to him," he said.

But CHCC paid $50,000 only and $2,000 from federal accounts, he added. "So there's a shortfall of $48,000 from the hospital.”

Camacho said the six-hour disconnection of the hospital will reduce CUC's fuel consumption.

"I have lots of respect for the hospital and its needs, including their mission. I am in full support of the hospital. However, we also need to ensure there are sufficient fuel and materials to provide power to our community.”

Camacho noted that CHCC owes CUC over $34 million.

In July, the CUC board informed CHCC that the hospital would be disconnected if it did not pay at least $5 million.

To help CHCC, the governor  remitted $2.5 million to CUC, but CHCC never made any additional payment, Camacho said.

Commitment

For his part, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista issued the following statement:

"Governor Torres and Lt. Governor Palacios have expressed their commitment to both CUC and CHCC by supporting the continuity of CHCC's operations, while making sure CUC is paid and does not raise rates on ratepayers to cover CHCC's liabilities and arrears. The governor and lt. governor paid $2.5 million two weeks ago and an additional $150,000 today to pay for more than half of CHCC's obligations. Furthermore, they have committed $150,000 a month to continue assisting CHCC with its utility arrears. Our hospital is a priority, which is why Governor Torres and Lt. Governor Palacios are diligently finding resources to keep them operational during this pandemic response. However, we also recognize CUC's position and are making sure that any unpaid liability by CHCC does not carry over to ratepayers, who need to be protected as well due to the economic impact we are all facing. The governor and lt. governor remain committed to CUC and CHCC, while ensuring public health services and protecting responsible ratepayers."

 

 

 

 

 

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