United Airlines’ decision to reduce flight services to NMI will have serious health impact, says CHCC’s Muna

COMMONWEALTH Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna expressed concern about the decision of United Airlines to reduce flights from Saipan to Guam to one a day, saying it will prevent some local patients from getting  the emergency specialty care they need.

United Airlines recently announced that it is cutting ties with Cape Air which has been flying five times daily between Guam and Saipan, Rota and Guam and Rota and Saipan.

Esther L. MunaEsther L. Muna

In a letter to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and president Scott Kirby, Muna said the change will make it more difficult to address emergency medical problems of patients in the CNMI, which is isolated and geographically remote.

Local patients who have serious medical conditions often undergo treatment on Guam which is about 135 miles from Saipan; and in the Philippines which is 1,600 miles away.

Muna said the nearest U.S. tertiary medical center for referral is in Honolulu, Hawaii, which is more than 11 hours away by air under the current flight schedules.

She said CNMI patients would have to fly to Guam at 8:40 a.m. and then stay at the Guam airport for 24 hours or be admitted for 20 hours at a hospital on Guam before boarding the 6:45 a.m. flight to Honolulu  the following day.

“This will greatly increase travel costs, stress, and risk to patients already in critical condition. This will also occupy our valuable medical staff who will need to spend two additional days away from the health center to transport patients. Critically ill adult patients without a passport who require emergent care at a U.S. hospital will face the same life-threatening obstacle,” Muna said.

“Even critically ill newborns and children requiring life-saving heart surgery or other specialty care, very rarely have the passport necessary to travel through Japan to Rady’s Special Hospital in San Diego, currently the only children’s hospital that accepts the CNMI’s Medicaid reimbursement.  It takes more than two weeks to expedite a passport in the CNMI. Emergency treatment for a newborn requires a U.S. domestic flight path to care,” she added.

A once-a-day flight will affect hospital services, too, Muna said, adding that inbound blood shipments may be delayed.

The CNMI receives its blood Supply from the American Red Cross on the mainland U.S., she said.

“The routing of CHC’s entire blood supply is from the mainland, Honolulu to Guam to Saipan. The final leg of this trip is usually the 2:45 a.m. flight from Guam to Saipan. Delaying this shipment due to one flight a day at 7:30 a.m. jeopardizes the entire blood supply of the CNMI,” Muna said.

Under federal regulations, human blood must be stored at low temperatures. If the blood warms up due to delayed shipment, the blood cannot be used, she added.

Muna said the CHC lab receives its entire supply of chemistry and coagulation reagents from Siemens on the mainland U.S. “These are shipped from the mainland to Honolulu to Guam to Saipan. These must be received frozen or they can’t be used. Any delays could result in thawing out of these supplies. The proposed one United flight a day jeopardizes all the CHC lab’s chemistry and coagulation testing.”

There may also be delays in sending out CHC lab specimens, including to Diagnostic Laboratory Services in Hawaii and newborn screening cards sent to the Oregon State Laboratory that should be received within five days of the lab draw.

“Delays can make the specimen worthless,” she added.

“I urge you to consider the impact [of the decision to reduce flights] on the lives and safety of CNMI residents, especially the newborns and children who have no alternative options. Please reconsider your CNMI schedules for the health and well-being of our residents,” Muna said.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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