ST. THOMAS Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The Committee on Health and Hospitals, chaired by Senator Ray Fonseca, convened a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers were updated on the status of operations by the Caribbean Kidney Center (CKC) and the St. Thomas East End Center Corporation (STEEMCC). The biggest challenge facing the Health Care Industry in the Virgin Islands is the need for additional funding.
Currently, the Caribbean Kidney Center is at risk of closing due to a lack of funding. Advocating on behalf of kidney dialysis patients, Senator Fonseca stated that over 250 residents receive kidney dialysis treatments and rely on the urgent care provided. “CKC closures would be unconscionable. There is a high demand for dialysis treatment Territorywide. There is a continuous need for community-based preventative and urgent healthcare intervention.” Senator Fonseca urged the Hospitals Territorial Board, which oversees the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas and the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, to acquire the renal dialysis centers from CKC.
Dr. Walter Gardiner, Medical Director of the Caribbean Kidney Center, shared testimony on the status of nurse payments at the facility. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, CKC was the only facility providing treatment to kidney dialysis patients. During that time, CKC sustained a financial decline due to the influx of patients with little revenue collection in return. CKC utilized existing funding to purchase equipment, supplies, and pay employees. Despite their efforts, CKC did not meet the qualifications to receive funding from FEMA. Although the Legislature of the Virgin Islands previously appropriated funding, it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough to sustain the salaries of the employees and operational costs. Senator Samuel CarriÃƒÂ³n inquired if the facility was closing. Dr. Gardiner noted that at the rate the appropriated monies are being expended, the funds will expire by August 2023. As a result, CKC will be unable to make payments, and the facility will close until the Legislature appropriates additional funding. Senator Diane Capehart mentioned that the lives of dialysis patients are at risk. This is a humanitarian crisis, which makes this matter a top priority.
Separately, Dr. Tess Richards, Interim Executive Director at the St. Thomas East Medical Center Corporation, stated that STEEMC is currently in the process of repairing, reorganizing, and restructuring. STEEMCC reviewed, evaluated, and updated policies and procedures to ensure a seamless operation, especially for the billing and collections departments. To reduce the gap between charges and collections, training is provided for supervisors, managers, and the billing and collections staff. Due to the lack of funding, a total of 18 employees were laid off, equivalent to a $120,000 per month reduction in the biweekly payroll. Senator Francis advised STEEMCC to assist former employees in regaining employment by filling vacancies throughout the Government of the Virgin Islands. Nonetheless, Richards testified that additional funding is required to hire a nutritionist, expand the behavioral health team, and increase hours of operations.
Lastly, policymakers were updated on operations at the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged (HGH). Denelle Baptiste, Assistant Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services, delivered testimony on behalf of DHS Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez. Due to the lack of funding, which resulted in uncompetitive salaries, HGH is challenged with attracting, hiring, and retaining qualified staff. Furthermore, additional funding is needed to address post-hurricane damage, including roof repairs in the kitchen, replacing window screens, upgrading plumbing and electrical work, and commencing repairs to the air conditioning units throughout HGH. Baptiste added that funding is required to expand the beds for the 24-hour senior residential facility, hire additional staff, purchase supplies for the kitchen, provide laundry services, and maintain the facility.
Senators present at the committee hearing included Ray Fonseca, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marice C. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Diane T. Capehart, Milton E. Potter, Samuel CarriÃƒÂ³n, and Kenneth L. Gittens. ###