SAIPAN — Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres said the medical referral program needs at least $10 million to $12 million a year.

"We just don't have the facility to give proper care for all of our patients, and that's the reason why we have this medical referral program, to send our patients out," he added.

Better health care in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands requires investing more in the islands' only hospital while also paying upfront costs, and bringing in more doctors and nurses, Torres said.

He noted that it was only a few years ago when the CNMI replaced hospital beds that had been around since the 1980s.

"What I'm saying is that we do need to sit down with the mayors and just understand what kind of health care we can provide," the governor said. "I mean, even transportation itself is an issue. So, again, we want to address and we want to accommodate everybody, but at the end of the day, there are some challenges that we all have to accept."

He noted that the CNMI House of Representatives has been conducting budget hearings on health care, including the medical referral program.

"They'll realize that we need to provide at least $10 million a year for medical referrals, but where are they going to cut $10 million from the government? And the hospital needs millions of dollars upfront to bring in equipment, doctors and nurses in order for us to provide immediate care for our patients," he said, adding that these issues are not new.

"(In) the end, we're trying our very best to provide health care here, and at the same time, send our patients out of the CNMI to get the health care they need."

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