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HEALTH OFFICIALS MAKE PLEAS FOR MORE FUNDING

Aug. 29, 2001 — V.I. Department of Health and St. Croix Juan F. Luis Hospital officials on Tuesday once again told senators of the dire need for funding nursing positions in the territory.
The shortage of nurses is not a new issue, as health officials have repeatedly been before different Senate committees over the last year describing the need. On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee heard of the desperate situation first hand as officials from the St. Croix hospital and the Health Department sought their share of funding for the next fiscal year.
"We have hit rock bottom, rock bottom. It is unsafe," said Eglantine Romney, head nurse and clinical care coordinator at JFL Hospital. "God forbid we get a disaster. I don’t know what would happen."
Darice Plaskett, vice president of nursing services at JFL Hospital, said there is a need for 66 registered nurses, 46 licensed practical nurses, 29 certified nursing assistants, 13 unit secretaries, two clinical care coordinators and one head nurse. She said that a critical shortage of nurses on the mainland is affecting the situation in the territory, particularly when other jurisdictions can offer signing bonuses of between $3,000 and $10,000.
The JFL Hospital is able to pay staff nurses a total of $1,000 in retention bonuses, said the hospital’s CEO Thomas Robinson.
"We are so desperate to meet these needs we would do almost anything," he said.
Acting Health Commissioner Mavis Matthew, meanwhile, said her department needs $27.6 million for FY 2001 in order to fill local and federally funded staff positions. Of the department’s 784 budgeted positions, 255 are empty.
Additionally, Matthew said the department will undertake a wide range of capital improvement projects, among them a major renovation of the Charles Harwood Medical Complex in Christiansted, repairs to the Ingeborg Nesbitt Clinic in Frederiksted, and purchasing four new ambulances for Emergency Medical Services.
Meanwhile, JFL Hospital officials urged senators to fully fund their $16.7 million budget request. Nellon Bowry, the hospital’s chief financial officer, told senators that the government’s funding of the facility has dropped each year since 1998, when it received $20.2 million. The hospital received $21.2 million in 1999, $18.9 million in 2000 and $16.5 in 2001.
Robinson noted that St. Thomas’ Roy Lester Schneider Hospital has "managed to maintain or increase" its level of funding over the same period.

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