By John McPhaul
The Department of Health presented to the Joint Treasury Committee on Tuesday a budget request for the next fiscal year of $1.784 billion, around $408 million more than that recommended by the Financial Oversight and Management Board.
Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López appeared along with the government’s health component at the public budget hearings on House Joint Resolution 307, which allocates over $12.5 billion from the General Fund for the functioning of the government during fiscal year 2022-2023.
The agency’s approved budget for the current fiscal year is $1.067 billion, so the amount suggested for the following fiscal year represents an increase of $309 million. Although he said that the services and programs of the Health Department are not in danger, Mellado López noted that he requires a budget that allows him to improve the salaries of employees and complete permanent improvements to hospital facilities.
He said the requested budget will include the item for the salary increase promised to nurses. The rest of the salary increases will occur as the new classification and compensation guidelines are established, he said.
“Right now, we have a budget that is good,” Mellado López said in a written statement. “Obviously, there are some programs that one would like to increase [salaries] for the employees, and the other [increase] would be with the CapEx funds with which we are working on the infrastructure of the regional offices, hospitals, CDTs [diagnosis and treatment centers], so we can have a much more responsive department.”
“My goal is to be able to use that money to be able to retain the epidemiologists … and obviously continue with the [COVID-19] surveillance systems, in addition to those that the Department of Health already has,” he added. “The Department of Health needs to be very proactive on that.”
Mellado López emphasized that, as of June 30, 2021, the agency has had an accumulated debt with suppliers that totals $30 million, of which $20 million is owed to the Medical Services Administration (ASEM by its Spanish acronym). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the payment of regular payroll using CARES Act funds, the agency requested that the oversight board reallocate $3.5 million for the payment of ASEM’s debt.