18 CHCC nurses affected by cap; to leave on July 1

EIGHTEEN nurses at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation are leaving the CNMI on July 1 because of the CW cap. CHCC tried to get a 240-day extension for them, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected the request.

“We submitted their [extension] applications on April 10,” CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna said. “We have evidence which shows that USCIS received the applications. Unfortunately, they [the nurses] haven’t received the receipts that would validate their 240-day extension to stay here and work. Without that receipt they will be considered overstayers.”

The 240-day grace period allows CW-1 permit holders to remain in the CNMI while waiting for a decision to be made in connection with the processing of their CW renewal petitions.

“We’ve done our part,” Muna said. “We paid the fees. The problem is the checks have not been cashed. The receipts have not been issued. The missing link here is the receipt. We are just asking USCIS to cash the checks and give us the receipts so that the nurses will feel safe while they are here,” she added.

Rey Alejandre, head nurse at the ICU, said the nurses who were “capped” hold vital positions. They include five nurses in the emergency room; three in the Intensive Care Unit; two in the neo-natal ICU; one in the operating room; three in the medical surgical section; and one in pediatric, labor and delivery, dialysis section, OB-GYN section.

“These are not nurses from the clinic,” Muna said. “They are specialized nurses that are in areas where you just don’t put someone who hasn’t been trained there. That’s the problem we are going to have now.”

Muna said they are going to make changes to the hospital operations.

She said they worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan’s office to extend the stay of the nurses.

“But despite our effort we haven’t got anything. At this point, I cannot hold them back any longer. If I hold them back, it will be hard for them in the future,” she said, referring to the affected nurses.

On May 25, CHCC filed a CW-1 “bridge” petition with USCIS for the 18 nurses whose CW-1 permits will expire on July 1, 2017.

The 18 nurses affected by the CW cap are set to leave the island on July 1. Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

The requested timeframe for this “bridge” petition is July 2 to Sept. 30, 2017 to “bridge” the short gap between the current expiration and the new permit period for the nurses. But the petition was rejected.

On June 9, Muna asked USCIS District Director David Gullick to reconsider the decision and requested that the 18 nurses be allowed to continue working through the remainder of FY 2017.

“This anticipated temporary departure of at least 18 RNs creates a substantial gap in our workforce,” she said in her letter. “This not only invites costly overtime expenses, adding stress to employees’ lives and possibly increasing the rate of mistakes, but also jeopardizes our ability to maintain accreditation with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services as a qualified hospital.”

As of Wednesday, Muna said there was no response from Gullick’s office.

The departure of 18 nurses will adversely affect the quality of patient care and patient safety at the CNMI’s only hospital that serves a population of more than 53,000 people, she added.

“We are scared for the staff, we’re scared for the community, we’re scared for the doctors, we’re scared for the patients.”

One of the affected nurses is Rosalie Garcia who has been working for CHCC for eight years. She also worked at the Rota Health Center for five years.

“I have two kids here. My 16-year-old son doesn’t want to go with me because his life is here. I brought him here from the Philippines when he was five. He studies here. He has friends here,” she said.

Garcia said it breaks her heart to see that her son and her daughter, who was born here, have to part ways. Her daughter will be left on island with her husband, who is here on humanitarian parole.

She added that her relationship with her son is strained because of her situation. “He doesn’t talk to me, and it’s hard. I think he is saying goodbye to his friends. This morning he woke me up and asked me if we were really going to the P.I. I told him not to go to the library anymore and that he had to pack his things,” she said, adding that her son is a volunteer at Joeten-Kiyu Public Library.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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