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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Fiscal board seeks corrective budget plan from UPR’s Comprehensive Cancer Center

Dr. Marcia Cruz Correa, executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Puerto Rico

By The Star Staff

The Financial Oversight and Management Board has given the University of Puerto Rico Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) until the end of the month to file a corrective action plan stating how it will start operating within the limits of its assigned budget.

For the past two years, the CCC has been using non-budgeted funds in the Special Revenue Fund (SRF) without obtaining prior approval from the oversight board, noted a letter addressed to Marcia Cruz Correa, executive director of the CCC.

“Such non-authorized reprogramming violates the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) and is directly contrary to the Fiscal Year 2023 Certified Budget for the Commonwealth,” noted the Aug. 30 letter sent by the oversight board’s executive director, Robert Mujica.

The CCC’s budget for the current fiscal year is about $46.5 million, government documents show.

In a written response, Cruz Correa said the operation of a hospital is complex and active and “we keep identifying additional sources of income to finance initiatives currently supported by the general fund to achieve long-term budget stability and guarantee the best use of resources.”

“Our priority is to rely on all the needed resources to deal responsibly with the medical attention needs of all oncological patients in Puerto Rico while making sure we comply with” PROMESA, she said, while assuring that the CCC is in direct communication with the oversight board and the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority to facilitate and move forward on its priorities.

The oversight board’s letter noted that in April 2022, the CCC requested, through PP2022-53804, a fiscal year 2022 SRF budget increase of $9 million to cover operating expenses. By then, the board had brought to the attention of the chief financial officer that the CCC must request approval prior to using additional funds not considered within the certified budget.

“Nevertheless, based on reports provided by the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, the Cancer Center spent a portion of the requested funds even though the budget increase had not been approved by the Oversight Board,” Mujica said in the letter. “The fact that this is yet another year where the Cancer Center utilizes non-budgeted funds without the Oversight Board’s review and approval raises serious concerns.”

Over the years the oversight board has continued to allocate additional resources to the CCC as a result of an evolving business plan.

“However, the inability to adhere to this requirement by PROMESA raises concerns regarding overarching financial management and compliance matters,” Mujica said. “If the Cancer Center seeks to use SRF surplus funds, it must first submit a budgetary request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). If OMB reviews the request and finds it to be in order, OMB will then submit it to the Oversight Board for its review and approval.”

The letter to the CCC comes at a time when hospitals in Puerto Rico have been having problems maintaining operations. Two private hospital systems, the HIMA Group and San Jorge Children’s Hospital, have filed for bankruptcy.

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