By Lori Lyn Lirio
DESPITE the lack of health care professionals in Saipan, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has rejected the transitional worker petition filed by the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation for 111 nurses, nurse managers and supervisors, it was learned yesterday.
According to CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muña, the CHCC has filed CW (transitional worker) petitions for its 167 employees, 145 of whom are healthcare professional workers.
She said that out of 167, only 19 employees were approved. Two staff were approved in CHCC corporate quality; three laboratory staff; two in control quality; four in dialysis section; five pharmacists; one ultrasound sonographer; one radiologists; one nurse in Rota.
Muña said she had a meeting last May 14 with nurses and the hospital staff where she gave assurance that the CHCC is “working on the solution to make them on board again.”
“The nurse leaders expressed that the nurses are still optimistic about the NMI Workforce Act becoming law. They know that we will re-petition as soon as the law allows us to do so,” she said.
“There is still ‘hope’,” Muna said, adding that they are looking on the passage of the U.S. Workforce bill, S.2325, which extends the federal CW program for 10 years after Dec. 2019 and increase the CW cap to 13,000 which is two more than the fiscal year 2017 cap. The cap would then be gradually reduced over a 10-year period.
“We will wait for the U.S. Congress decision. We will continue to fight and gather support from federal and CNMI authority, including the labor aspect and other areas,” she said.
“By end of June, if the bill does not become law, the nursing leaders expressed optimism will begin to fade,” she added.
The CHCC’s Human Resources department has been working to transition nurses with CW permits to Employment-based 2 or EB2 status. The EB visas and H1B visas are being processed already, she said.
In a report presented by Muña before the board members, she said HR director Clarinda Ngirausui and Director of Nursing Renea Raho went to Guam on April to work with legal counsel and make sure that the documents are in place for the visa application. She said there are two qualified for EB2 and most of the employees, including ancillary staff, are qualified for EB3.
CHCC public information officer Sami Birmingham-Babauta said the CHCC recognized a dire need to the local health worker capacity.
“CHCC recognizes this and is working to achieve this goal by improving the pay scale for nurses.”
She said this will encourage nursing graduates both locally and abroad to choose employment with CHCC, adding that the hospital has implemented a graduate nursing program that enables graduate nurses to be employed and obtain hands on experience while studying for the NCLEX. The program is extended to all graduate nurse with Associates of Science in Nursing degree from NMC.
“CHCC covers the participating GN’s studying materials and exam fees in exchange for a signing a contract with CHCC upon successful completion of the nursing exam,” she added.
“Despite these efforts, there is still a limited local capacity and any loss to our health professional workers will severely hinder CHCC’s ability to provide services. When granting CW-1 permits, health professional workers should be prioritized as a critical need to the Commonwealth and to the community. CHCC is pursuing other solutions to avoid disruption of critical health services,” Birmingham-Babauta said in a statement.