June 5, 2002 – After hours of back-and-forth lobbying and debate Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee found a way to provide money needed by the Human Services Department without taking it away from the Health Department, as had been proposed.
Actually, it was Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, who came up with the solution the senators went with. He proposed transferring $1,055,000 from the government's Land Bank Fund, which is the repository of property taxes.
Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert had asked for about $1.25 million to fund a contract with a mainland institution for residential care of severely disabled Virgin Islanders. Of that amount, $1,055,000 was to come from funds earlier appropriated to the Health Department.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, the committee chair, rallied colleagues to support Halbert's quest for funding to pay the Devereux Foundation, a Texas residential facility.
Halbert told the committee, "I have 18 very severely disabled patients. Four to five are court-ordered cases." She said some are permanent wards of the department and some also have family members with disabilities.
The government signed a contract with Devereux on May 16 for residential, medical/psychiatric, clinical/social, education, vocational and other services plus clothing and personal hygiene items at a cost per day of $168 for adults, $277 for children and $357 for long-term adolescents. So, far, Halbert said, Human Services owes the facility $550,000.
At a May 28 hearing, committee members put off deciding whether to approve Halbert's request — largely because Health Commissioner Mavis Matthew didn't show up to explain whether Health no longer needed the funds.
Matthew, who appeared under subpoena at Tuesday's hearing, said the $1,055,000 allocated to Health by the Legislature is slated for the establishment of a new pharmacy at the Charles Harwood Complex, the hiring of a pharmacist and the purchase of medical supplies.
Hansen asked Matthew several times about the urgency of the pharmacy services at Charles Harwood. "We don't want to have patients from Christiansted going to Kmart in Frederiksted," she said, a concern expressed previously at hearings on Medicaid services at the Frederiksted Health Center.
Matthew said the first phase of the current Harwood Complex renovations should be completed by August and that the second phase, which includes the pharmacy, is to begin in November with completion set for June 2003.
Senators discussed other possible sources of funding for Human Services. The suggestion of tapping $1 million proposed for the purchase of land surrounding Magens Bay drew sharp opposition from Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole. "We will have to locate additional resources to support the Magens Bay project," he said.
Hansen asked Mills to find out where the governor is finding the funds to raise to his chauffeur's salary from $28,000 to $58,000. "All I need is the monies for the commissioner of Human Services to address those needy children," she said.
Mills said, "In our present budget, we requested capital funding from the [federal] Department of the Interior." He added, "It is just a matter of balancing our resources so that we can meet as many needs as possible."
Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel noted that if the individuals under Devereux's care were to be returned to the territory, the government would still have to come up with money for their care at local establishments such as the Sea View Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility on St. Thomas. "They can't be accommodated at the psychiatric ward" of the local hospitals, she said. "They would just be on the street."
Then, during a break in the session, Mills proposed the idea to Hansen of transferring $1,055,000 from the Land Bank Fund. When the hearing resumed, the four committee members present — Sens. Cole, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Hansen and Pickard-Samuel — voted to do that and assured Matthew that the pharmacy funds would not be touched. The transfer must go before the full Senate for approval and will be put on the agenda for a June 21 session.
The committee also agreed to a request from Roy L. Schneider Hospital for an appropriation transfer in the amount of $639,417 for personnel services and fringe benefits for critical staff positions already filled. The line item transfer moves the money from unclassified to classified positions.
The hospital's new chief executive, Rodney Miller, testified that the transfer was needed to correct discrepancies in the Fiscal Year 2002 appropriation. He said an analysis by the Office of Management and Budget revealed the discrepancies.
"We support the appropriation transfer based on our review of their spending," Mills said. Hospital administrators, he added, "have been very responsible and have contained their spending within their resources."
Miller also addressed the status of the St. Thomas-St. John district medical waste incinerators. He said it will cost $45,000 to upgrade the Schneider Hospital equipment and $5,000 to bring the incinerator at the Myra Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John into compliance with federal emissions standards.
Donastorg also asked Mills to provide the Senate with a report of revenues received from the monthly $1 emergency services surcharge Innovative Telephone collects on behalf of the government, along with the number of phone lines the company has and related data.
One committee member, Sen. Carlton Dowe, was excused from the meeting. Two others, Sens. Douglas Canton Jr. and Norman Jn Baptiste, were absent.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.