CNMI Responsible for Nursing "Emergency"

August 9, 2010

Over a month ago Governor Fitial declared a "state of emergency" concerning the nursing crisis on Rota and Tinian.  Still the problem has not been resolved.  Since last year, the Saipan Employment Agency and Service (SEAS), the supplier-employer of  22 Filipino nurses for the government-run Rota and Tinian Health Care Centers, has failed to pay the nurses on time.

But wasn't the CNMI government responsible for creating the crisis and "emergency" from the start? Reportedly, SEAS was unable to pay their  contracted medical personnel because the CNMI government failed to pay SEAS hundreds of thousands of dollars that the government was billed. As of July 19th, the CNMI government still had not paid SEAS for the medical personnel working on Rota and Tinian. How can SEAS pay the nurses when the CNMI government is not paying the agency for their services?

In a mockery of justice, the CNMI Department of Labor charged SEAS with labor violations and barred it from hiring foreign workers in medical positions because of the payroll situation. In May 2010 SEAS appealed the April 2010 decision, but the appeal was denied.  How can the CNMI government find this agency in violation of labor law when the very same government is responsible for the agency's lack of revenue to pay the nurses because it failed to pay SEAS!?

Labor Secretary San Nicolas stated in the denial:
“Basically, the insolvency of the company due to an inability to collect accounts receivable, are among those that the labor laws of the commonwealth are designed to handle,” San Nicolas said in his order.

Labor, he added, cannot allow back wages and unpaid claims to pile up in the hope that the company may at some time in the future become solvent again.

“The fact that an entity of the CNMI government owes the company money does not change the company’s current circumstances and its basic ineligibility to employ foreign workers,” he said.
Is the U.S. Department of Labor investigating this situation? Will SEAS now sue the CNMI government for full payment, interest and damages?   It is clear that the agency did not pay the nurses because the CNMI government failed to pay them for the services:
San Nicolas said the “sole ground for appeal is that appellant is without the means to make the required payments because its client, the Rota Health Center, has not paid according to its contract and unpaid billings of $197,113.56 are outstanding.”

The appeal was supported by a letter from Rota Health Center Director Crispin M. Ayuyu.

In the appeal, Cruz said “due to long period of time of non-payment of RHC…our company’s cash flow was severely impaired and our working fund was drained to the point that we can no longer cope with our financial obligations to our employees and other companies/individuals providing support services to us in relation to our business operations."
Meanwhile, the situation for the nurses remains critical. On July 7, 2010 the Saipan Tribune reported:
Rota nurses interviewed yesterday by Saipan Tribune said that, while they welcome the government's emergency declaration so they could still continue working, they are worried that the government will not reinstate their salaries.

Rota nurses have only received partial payments of their salaries since April due to funding shortages by both SEAS and the government.

The partial payment is equivalent to the CNMI's minimum wage of $4.55 an hour.
Fitial declared a state of emergency due to the termination of contracts between Saipan Employment Agency and Services and the Rota and Tinian Health Centers.

The law bans the government from directly hiring foreign medical personnel on Rota and Tinian. Exempted are foreign nurses for the Commonwealth Health Center on Saipan.
The law bans the government from directly hiring foreign medical personnel on Rota and Tinian. Exempted are foreign nurses for the Commonwealth Health Center on Saipan.

...“A state of emergency for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is declared due to the imminent threat of the disruption of critical medical services on the islands of Tinian and Rota and the extreme, immediate threat such conditions pose to the public,” Fitial said in his one-page declaration.

The governor invoked his authority to “suspend all statutory or regulatory provisions as required” and to allow for the “reprogramming of funds necessary to meet this emergency.”
Why was  a law prohibiting Rota and Tinian health care centers from directly hiring of medical personnel enacted in the first place?  The Saipan CHC is exempted from this law.

As of June 2010, there were 117 nurses in the CNMI, including 141 registered nurses, 45 licensed practical nurses and 31 nursing assistants.  The Rota nurses who were hired under SEAS have contracts that pay them between $8.93 to $9.20 an hour. Saipan nurses hired by the CNMI government are paid $16 or more an hour.   It costs more to live on Rota and Tinian than it does on Saipan, and yet these professionals are being paid ridiculously low salaries. Why the pay discrepancies?

There is no reason why an educated nurse should be paid CNMI minimum wage or even under $20 an hour.  Someone please tell these nurses that there are high-paying nursing positions available in the U.S. and Canada.

On August 2, 2010 the Marianas Variety reported that nurses on Rota were working overtime because of a lack of personnel. Five SEAS hired nurses with expired contracts were waiting to see if their contracts would be renewed and have not worked since July. It was also reported that two other SEAS-hired nurses on Rota were not working because they have not been paid.

The affected nurses also stated that they no longer have health insurance coverage. Since July, the Philippine Consulate has been providing food assistance to 7 Rota nurses who stopped working in early July because their contracts expired or they were not paid.

One would think that this situation would have been resolved since the positions in question are critical  to the well-being of the entire communities of Rota and Tinian.  It seems that the CNMI government is not on top of this "emergency" that they helped to create.

So, to sum it up.  The CNMI government created a nursing crisis by not paying the agency that pays the nurses. Then the CNMI DOL ruled that the agency, SEAS, violated labor law and barred them from hiring foreign workers.  DOL then denied the appeal that exposed that the CNMI government owes the agency almost $200,000, which the agency needs to be able to pay the nurses. Finally, the CNMI governor declared a "state of emergency," and it appears that there has been no resolution.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Makes you wonder if Fitial himself handed down that sentence so that the company would leave CNMI and the government wouldn't have to pay.

Anonymous said...

Some nurses in Rota purposely chose not to renew their contracts with SEAS, since they wanted higher salaries with the CNMI government. It was a gamble that unfortunately for them didn't work. DPH sent nurses from CHC to work temporarily in Rota, and then Rota posted vacancies for 2 FTE positions that were filled by local hires. DPH nurses have very little turnover now that (1) they require NCLEX passage before hire, and (2) the U.S. is experiencing a 5+ year delay in the issuance of U.S. immigrant visas. Combined with 3 nursing schools on the island of Saipan and unemployed foreign nurses coming to Saipan for student permits and other occupations, there is a surplus of nurses and depressed wages. Unless there are regulations against it, I would suspect you will find even more nurses coming to Saipan under the CW visa for $4.55/hr.

Anonymous said...

I do feel some sympathy for SEAS, but not a huge amount and I am not shocked this happened. My lack of excessive sympathy comes from the fact that they should have known.
I deal with this type of Saipan Governmnent crap all the time in my job and have been burned enough to have some basic rules in dealing with them. Here is how the "CNMI dance" goes. A government agency gets a PO for our services. They submit it us and we give them the services. Then we go collect on the PO and Finance/Treasury says theirs no money and come back later. When we go to get back our services from the agency they say "Look, we have PO, go to Finance". And on it goes.
Hint: For anyone doing business with the Government have them preinvoice you for the services then collect before you give them services. Do business with the CNMI at your on peril. You have been warned.

Anonymous said...

The CNMI govt. owes the agency almost $200,000. The accumulation of that amount takes 1-2 years or more. Why then the agency did not anticipate that in the future the problem might arise? The agency should confront the CNMI govt. to resolve the problem beforehand and not to wait that these poor nurses get affected and suffered. Who would you think have fault? The CNMI govt. who just takes advantage between agency and nurses, the agency who just waits for the profit, or the nurses who just work hard for their families away from them? Or would you think because of personal interest behind?

Wendy said...

Anonymous 10:35

Why do you think "accumulation of that amount" would take 1-2 years? The newspaper reported that SEAS had 22 nurses working for the Rota and Tinian health care centers for $8 and above. Do the math. It would take months.

The agency is owed money by the CNMI government. It needs to collect the money in order to pay the nurses. I am sure that the vendor has contacted the CNMI to tell them to honor invoices. The government should pay all bills in a timely manner or face consequences. Clearly, these innocent nurses are caught in a terrible situation that has become worse because of the negligent government. Most local and state governments pay vendors, but as another commenter pointed out, the CNMI government is corrupt and people do "business with them at their own peril." I hope SEAS has a good attorney. Ditto for the nurses.

Anonymous 9:44

Where does your information come from? I can locate no information on a delay in issuing visas, never mind a 5 plus year delay.

Captain said...

Anon 9:44 You stated "5 year delay in Immigration visa" Immigration visa and work visa are different. And I have not had any problems in delay of any visa's out of US Embassy Manila.

For petition of a family member to join in the US, yes there is a long wait in some cases.
Non Quota immigrant is about 30 days and most other visa is about 2 weeks. (depending on the type and circumstances.)
Fiance' visa, about 20 days.
"H" visa within a month etc. after all the proper and supporting documents are in.

If any nurses were to be brought into the NMI they would have to come in under the Fed system and could not come in under a CW worker any more. That portal is closed. Also, in the past, for any "Visa worker" besides the hiring party documenting "No US worker available" the wages cannot be under the current Fed NMI minimum wage. "One wage fits all job description" does not apply anymore for any new worker for the NMI.I am not sure if the wage will be the AWD (area wage determination)for Guam, which cover this area, or the US mainland wage for the "H" Visa worker. (concerning nurses, doctors and medical personal)

Anonymous said...

The U.S. visa bulletin which gives priority dates for applications for work visas are listed at:
http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5092.html

EB3 is the professional category that would encompass nurses which are available for applications filed in 2003 for China and 2004 for the Philippines (6-7 year wait). It has actually gone backwards recently.
In 2007, a total of 9,689 such visas were issued to nurses.

In some circumstances the H1B visa (which is current) has been used for nurses however they must work in a position that requires a bachelor's degree for entry. Since associates degrees in nursing has boomed in the U.S. many hospitals are prevented from hiring under the H1B. H1-B non-immigrant visas, for nurses in specialized occupations, were issued only to 38 in 2006, 66 in 2007, and 136 in 2008
(www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cisomb_recommendation_36.pdf) Page 7-8

The H1C visa which had 110 foreign nurse approvals in 2008 is no longer available.

Anonymous said...

http://www.asianjournal.com/dateline-philippines/headlines/854-us-relaxes-visa-requirements-for-nurses-.html

No wait for nurses

Anonymous said...

No wait for nurses if they qualify for TN visa

Anonymous said...

Want a nursing job in a beautiful place with no immigration debates? Go to Australia! No wait, no debate! Great pay and pathway to citizenship.

Anonymous said...

http://www.asianjournal.com/dateline-philippines/headlines/854-us-relaxes-visa-requirements-for-nurses-.html

Nursing visas are not available. Please read page 2 of the article.

I would agree that there is no wait for Canadians and Mexicans under the TN visa.

As for minimum wage nurses coming to the CNMI in the future, the original proposed CW Transitional Worker Visa regulations did not include any wage bands. I also did not read any comments requesting wage bands. I suspect business interests will win out and the new CW Transitional worker visa will be silent on that issue.

As for Australia, they do have a nursing shortage, but to work as a nurse in Oz you first have to complete a bridging course under a student visa, and you have to show $10-15,000 USD in your bank account at the Manila Embassy. If you do get through the course, you can probably find an employer to sponsor you. If you have the money it may be worthwhile.