Official: CW program still needed while nurses transition to other visas

COMMONWEALTH Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna said the hospital still needs the CW program for its nonresident nurses and other healthcare staff while CHCC applies for other types of U.S. work visas.

She said their nurses and other critical staff cannot be “out of status” which means they will have to leave the island.

Muna said like other employers, CHCC will be affected by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ decision to reduce the number of CW slots by 3,000 in fiscal year 2018 or to 9,998 from 12,998.

A CW-1 permit allows their foreign nurses and other staff to continue working at the hospital while they wait for the approval of their new work visas, she added.

“Changing status takes time. While involved in that process, they have to have a status. A CW spot is easier for them to fill.”

The other option is to send them home. “But we don’t want to do that because we need those positions, and we are still short on staff,” Muna added.

She said the CNMI is suffering from a shortage of health professionals even as CHCC takes measures to recruit nurses.

“Despite the fact that we have nursing graduates from the local college, despite that fact that we have increased salaries for nurses to be able to recruit more of them, we still don’t have enough staff.”

Muna said many of the hospital’s foreign workers have been serving the hospital and the local community for many years.

“You have to understand that many of these nurses have been here for years since the hospital was built. Why not give them improved immigration status? How can you not reward their loyalty? People should be open-minded about that.”

Muna reiterated that CHCC cannot afford to lose its nurses and hospital staff because of the CW cuts. She said CHCC needs adequate staff as required by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

But CHCC is also preparing for Dec. 2019 when the CW program ends if it is not extended by the U.S. Congress, she said.

Since January, Muna added, CHCC has already applied for H-1B visas for six employees, including the pharmacy manager, the physical therapist, the infection and review coordinator and the epidemiologist.

She said CHCC has also started processing the filing of EB2 visas for 15 employees and will do the same for the rest of its 170 nonresident nurses and healthcare staff.

CHCC earlier said that one of the reasons it was raising its rates is to fund pay raises for its healthcare staff so they can be hired through other U.S. work visas.

Muna said lack of staff costs CHCC a lot of money. “When we have an insufficient number of staff we spend a lot on overtime pay.”

She said they can also hire traveling nurses, but they have to be paid almost triple the salary of what CHCC employees currently receive.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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