St. Thomas

St. John



Published: Oct 1, 2022

ST. CROIX – Members of the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services led by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. The Committee received a status update on JFL North, as well as an update on senior care in the territory.

Sen. Francis said he expected JFL Leadership to reassure the community that the process to open the new facility is coming to an end. “Our community is frustrated because there is the sense of promises being made about JFL North, but not kept,” he said. Francis referenced a recent article that described the territories as healthcare deserts and challenges in accessing healthcare. “Our community is getting older, and we must be proactive in the ways we support the health and well-being of an aging community.” 

Christopher Finch, the Chairman of the Virgin Islands Government Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation, said the JFL administration and board members are equally unhappy that JFL North remains unopened. Finch stated that there are many challenges encountered by staff providing care and patients receiving care in a compromised building. Furthermore, Finch stated that once JFL North opened, it must meet all accreditation guidelines to enable the safe provision of top-quality care.  

Finch acknowledged that one of the major challenges plaguing hospitals territory wide, are boarders, or frail seniors who live at the hospital because they have nowhere else to be placed and cannot live by themselves. He said that once opened, JFL North will lack the bed capacity to handle boarders. Finch noted that the boarder issue is directly related to a lack of long-term care services in the territory. The hospitals are working closely with the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, and the Office of Management and Budget to find placements for the 18 boarders between JFL and Schneider Regional Medical Center.  

Douglas Koch, the Chief Executive Officer of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center also shared an update. Koch stated that the temporary hospital project has been faced with numerous challenges. Infrastructure challenges have been highlighted, especially in moments of adverse weather in the Virgin Islands. Koch stated that on average, there are 8-10 boarders in the hospital daily. As a result, approximately 35-40% of adult medical/surgical beds are already in use. This causes a major backlog, and the patients that are admitted also occupy rooms in the emergency room. Most days, the emergency room has four or five rooms, when there should ideally be at least twelve. Hospital staffing has also been a major concern at the facility. There is a national shortage of hospital personnel, and many are also facing the same issues, such as an aging workforce, retirements, burnout, and increasing cost of traveler and agency staff. The current nursing staff plan needs 140 bedside staff RNs. However, there are currently 73 bedside RN vacancies, a vacancy rate of about 52%.  

Darryl Smalls, the Executive Director of the Territorial Hospital Team for the Virgin Islands Government Hospital and Health Facilities Corporation spoke extensively on the progress of the JFL North project.  Smalls also presented a video and slide presentation to display the full scope of the project.  Smalls stated that he was excited to report that they were nearing completion of the construction activities on the mechanical building. This building would house critical systems, such as components of the life safety system, the domestic water supply system, the medical air and vacuum delivery systems, the oxygen supply system, the emergency backup generators, the fire suppression system, and the liquid propane distribution system. Smalls noted that he had previously testified that the scheduled completion of the mechanical building was August 2022. However, a major component, the 260,000-gallon water storage tank was impacted by supply chain issues and a world steel shortage. It is expected that the coordination of the testing and certification processes to ensure the systems are functioning is scheduled to commence in the third week of October and conclude in November 2022. Once all systems have received favorable certifications, and no other modifications are needed, the official transition from JFL to JFL North will immediately begin.  

Kimberly Causey-Gomez, the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services and Justa Encarnacion, the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Health, testified on senior care in the territory. The committee also heard a written statement from Cindy Joseph, Owner of The Turner Point senior care facility. Turner Causey-Gomez stated that one of the key gaps in senior services is the lack of availability of nursing home beds and skilled nursing facilities to care for the elderly, frail and disabled seniors. The Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged-on St. Croix and Queen Louise Home on St. Thomas provides daily care to seniors aged 60 and older. There are currently 22 residents at Herbert Grigg, with an additional three residents expected in the coming weeks. Due to a lack of long-term care availability in the Virgin Islands, there is a wait list of almost 70 seniors including boarders. The Queen Louise Home for the Aged cannot admit any new residents due to current COVID-19 restrictions. When these restrictions are lifted, 1-2 admissions will be considered. Causey-Gomez noted that for a nursing home to properly operate, there must be appropriate staffing in numerous areas such as dietary, kitchen staff, cooks, workers, nursing/medical, institutional support, social services, and administrative staff. 

Lastly, Commissioner Encarnacion discussed the Department of Health’s role in senior care. According to Encarnacion, the Community Health Clinics play a major role in providing care for seniors diagnosed with chronic diseases, which include diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. To mitigate chronic diseases, DOH Division of Chronic Disease and Prevention has two programs for seniors. One of them is the Chronic Disease Self-Management, a six-week educational group workshop geared towards increasing awareness on how to self-manage chronic diseases. Currently, there are 150 participants attending eight workshops. The second is the National Diabetes Prevention Program, a year-long self-management program that is currently providing services to 42 seniors. Encarnacion further mentioned that the Mobile Integrated Healthcare Program provides patients at home with declining mobility to receive treatment for chronic illnesses. A total of 69 participants joined the program.  

During the meeting, senators questioned the testifiers on various topics, to include details of JFL North, premium pay for employees, services available for seniors, options for long term care, and the meals on wheels program. 

Senators present at the committee hearing were Novelle E. Francis Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alma Francis Heyliger, Janelle K. Sarauw, Angel L. Bolques, Jr, Franklin D. Johnson, and Carla J. Joseph. 


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