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PuertoRicoWOW News Service
Calderon Appoints Rullan As Health Chief
by Proviana Colon Diaz
January 17, 2001
SAN JUAN - Two months after being elected to the post, Gov. Sila Calderon on Tuesday appointed epidemiologist Johnny Rullan as her Secretary of Health.
Complying with one of her campaign promises, Calderon announced the creation by legislation of a Patients' Ombudsman position, and appointed cardiologist Carlos Diaz to fill the post.
Furthermore, she announced the selection of Manuel G. Mendez as executive director to the Health Insurance Services Administration, known as ASES for its Spanish acronym.
With the three appointments, Calderon finally completed her constitutional Cabinet and is now in the process of sending the names of her appointees to the Senate for their confirmation.
Calderon acknowledged last week that the selection of the new secretary of Health was difficult since the department faced "one of the most difficult and sensitive situations" under her administration.
Her statements are based on the fact that the appointed secretary inherits a department with one of the worst fiscal situations in the government. This includes an accumulated debt of the health reform of more than $800 million, and a $25 million debt to the Medical Center Corp. The department also has a current debt of $62 million, $43 million of which is owed to public corporations, $12 million to public services and $6.3 million to suppliers.
Asserting that the huge debt was caused by a wrongly implemented health reform, Calderon and the newly appointed members of her team said they would implement an immediate action plan to try to correct the situation.
"The [health] reform has changed the entire panorama concerning health services in Puerto Rico. Therefore, it is important that the work be integrated, coherent and focused," the governor said.
Calderon has already instructed Government Development Bank President Juan Agosto Alicea to explore the possibilities for solving the fiscal problem.
Breaking up the debt into three parts, Agosto Alicea said they must find a way to pay the medicine suppliers within 30 days. Next, they must deal with the accumulated debt in the general budget for the year 2001-02. Finally, they must find a way to deal with the 11% annual increase in health reform costs, something that may take between three to five years to solve.
A graduate from Johns Hopkins University Medical School and former Deputy Director of the Office of Epidemiology at the Virginia Health Department, Rullan said one of his top priorities would be to "urgently attend to the financial situation at the department."
Rullan said he also will study the best use that can be given to government-owned health facilities and those that have been rented. There are currently 10 health facilities rented by the government, eight owned by the department, two that have been closed. The rest have been sold.
Furthermore, Rullan said he will establish prevention plans.
The new ASES director, for his part, said he will restructure and speed up the process of filling, receiving and attending to complaints from both patients and providers.
"We will establish hotlines to determine what are the areas with the most problems and fix them," Mendez said.
Although the Patients' Ombudsman four-year-term post is yet to be created by legislation, Diaz said he will establish a offices with assigned personnel to act as liaisons with health care centers across the island to assure that quality and access are being provided to patients.