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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Crisis in island’s hospital systems continues as Hospital el Maestro mulls filing for bankruptcy

Hospital el Maestro in San Juan

By The Star Staff

The crisis in Puerto Rico’s hospitals is continuing. More hospitals are experiencing a financial crisis as workers at the Río Piedras Medical Center, the island’s leading hospital, are threatening to go on strike.

The latest hospital to declare financial problems was Hospital el Maestro in San Juan, after management said it may file for bankruptcy or put assets up for sale.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, however, said people should not press the panic button just yet because of the fiscal crisis at Hospital el Maestro.

“We have known for some time that this hospital is having administrative and financial difficulties,” the governor said in response to questions at a press conference late last week. “And what we saw with the HIMA hospital system, is what I think would happen if they go to bankruptcy court. If the hospital went to bankruptcy court, what happens in such situations, at least that was the case with HIMA, is that other hospital systems or entities that manage medical facilities acquire the assets of the entity that files for bankruptcy.”

“I am not making predictions, but we should not … be alarmed beyond what is necessary,” Pierluisi said.

“Other excellent hospital systems have already taken over the facilities of HIMA,” he added. “We are seeing Auxilio Mutuo in Bayamón and Metro Pavía in Caguas, to mention two examples. So that’s the important thing.”

The governor made the director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3), Manuel Laboy Rivera, available to Hospital del Maestro management to help with the situation by hastening the funds approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair hospital facilities and that, according to press reports, cannot be transferred to another entity that acquires the assets.

“We are going to be monitoring,” Pierluisi said. “I put Manuel Laboy at the Hospital del Maestro’s disposal to assist them if they want to overcome any bureaucratic obstacle with FEMA. I am sure that Manuel Laboy can evaluate this situation and make the appropriate recommendations. Likewise the approaches that have to do with FEMA, because he works shoulder to shoulder with FEMA from day to day.”

Laboy Rivera stated that “as is public knowledge, Hospital del Maestro has an obligation from FEMA that exceeds $151.6 million.”

“Given the possibility of the sale of this health center, I have met on several occasions in recent months with its administration to explore alternatives that will allow us to maintain the obligation of these federal funds,” he said.

“As part of the process, we consulted FEMA, where we provided specifics on the situation,” the COR3 chief added. “The federal entity responded to the request and explained that, if a sale of the hospital is processed, the buyer must be a nonprofit entity to guarantee the permanence of the allocation of funds.”

Hospital del Maestro leadership is aware of the FEMA response, Laboy Rivera noted.

“We at COR3 will continue to assist you in this process to ensure the use of these much-needed funds to provide resilience to hospital infrastructure,” he told hospital officials.

Last week, the Hospital del Maestro board of directors left open the possibility of benefiting from the Bankruptcy Law, due to the financial situation they face. It is the second time the hospital has explored filing for bankruptcy.

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