June 25, 2002 – Members of the Senate Health and Hospitals Committee got a lesson in cardiovascular medicine and a refresher course in public finance Tuesday.
Thomas Robinson, chief executive at Juan F. Luis Hospital, spoke glowingly of the accomplishments to date of the hospital's new cardiac center and their wider implications for patient care on St. Croix. A total of 225 cardiac cauterizations and seven angioplasty procedures to open partially blocked blood vessels have been performed at the center, he said.
"We are realizing our dream of a cardiac center of excellence," he said, adding that "someday open-heart surgery could be performed" at Luis Hospital.
But Robinson also told the committee that the hospital is desperately in need of supplemental funding approved last December. The Senate appropriated $5 million then, but according to the Daily News Robinson said he was told by Turnbull administration officials that he could expect at most $1 million, because there was no money to fund the appropriation. But he said Tuesday that the administration has refused to provide any supplemental funding, on grounds that the government is paying some staff salaries that should be paid by the semi-independent hospital organization.
Robinson said he needs $500,000 for drugs and supplies and another $500,000 for salaries, notably for nurses, to get through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. "We really need nurses. We really need staff," the Daily News quoted him as saying.
On the agenda for the St. Croix hearing were updates on the cardiac care center and the hospital's dialysis unit. However, none of three persons invited to testify concerning the dialysis unit appeared at the hearing, according to a Legislature release.
Robinson said the dialysis unit has all necessary equipment in place except for a reverse osmosis unit that is to be shipped to the hospital on Friday. Harold Brown, who is in charge of hospital maintenance, said a backup generating system has been installed so that dialysis services will not be affected by power outages.
Robinson also told the committee that Luis Hospital has more than 30 long-term care patients and that the cost of their care is in the millions of dollars. According to the release, the senators agreed "that some form of measure needs to be in place that would remedy the financial crisis now facing the hospital as it relates to long-term health care."
Meantime, the hospital is owed more than $5 million in unpaid bills and has hired an off-island collection agency, Robinson said. He also said about 40 percent of Luis patients have no medical insurance and cannot pay their bills.
The medical presentation was by Dr. Kendall Griffith, a St. Croix cardiologist. He provided an overview of the cardiovascular system and the diseases that can affect it.
The senators were told that a full-service cardiac health care facility able to perform open-heart surgery is needed in the territory and that it could cost $8 million.
Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., committee chair, said the hospital dialysis unit has had problems for 16 years, "and today we still face the same problems." He said his office received no notice from four persons who had been "invited" to testify about the unit — Dr. Charles Perez and patients Aida Coto, Warren Phaire and Glen Williams.
According to the release, Canton also said it appears that for the 24th Legislature, "health care has not been one of its priorities." He added that money needs "to be put in dialysis instead of cars."
Committee members present at the morning session, which dealt with the cardiac center, were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Canton, Roosevelt David, David Jones and Vargrave Richards. Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Almando "Rocky" Liburd were not present. At the afternoon session, addressing dialysis concerns, only Canton was present.
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