March 22, 2006 – Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center Administrator Harold Wallace came under fire Wednesday for not getting out more in the St. John community.
"If you want people to be on your side, you've got to get out there and walk the street," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said at a community meeting called by Wallace at the health center.
Wallace said when he came on board just over five months ago, his first priority was to deal with the facility's finances. However, he promised to do a better job of interacting with the community.
Harley told Wallace that people view him as someone who comes on the barge in the morning and gets back on it in the afternoon to go home to St. Thomas.
Wallace also took heat for the fact that the health center's budget pays for his barge commute to St. John.
However, Roy L. Schneider Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Rodney Miller Sr. said he was responsible for allowing Wallace to use the barge rather than the ferry because he needs to be able to get around easily.
Wallace got off on the wrong foot with many of the approximately 50 people who attended the meeting thanks to nearly an hour's delay in starting. As people began arriving for the scheduled 5 p.m. start time, a sign was posted on the door announcing the meeting would instead begin at 6 p.m.
Miller said that the meeting was, in fact, scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
"It was a miscommunication," he later said, although a press release sent March 14 said the meeting would run begin at 5 p.m.
At around 5:45 p.m. Miller, hospital attorney Amos Carty and about a half-dozen other hospital personnel arrived from St. Thomas. The meeting began at 5:50 p.m.
Several people spoke about poor morale among the health center's employees. "I think morale is hitting bottom," Yvonne Wells said.
Wallace disputed that allegation and said that "morale is coming along pretty good."
Wallace, in his "State of the Health Center" address, said that Myrah Keating Smith's most pressing challenge is developing the computer system that enables the facility to handle charges and billing.
He also said that the health center may move the cashiers' window into the lobby because a "significant" number of people leave the facility without paying.
He said he is also short eight staff members lost over the past several years to budget cuts. However, he said plans are in the works to replace those people with radiology, medical technology and nurses, being the priority.
He said that radiology is now open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but when a radiology technician is hired, it will be open Monday through Friday.
Carol Beckowitz — president of the St. John Emergency Medical Services Association and the chief researcher for the Legislature's Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee — said that because emergency medical technicians accompany patients on the Star of Life ambulance boat to St. Thomas, no one is left on St. John to respond to calls.
Miller responded that that was a Health Department issue and that she should pressure lawmakers to come up with funding to hire more staff.
EMT Jorge Melendez asked Miller to improve "sensitivity" at Schneider Regional Medical Center because St. John patients are not always treated right. "They hear things like 'those boat people, those St. Johnians,'" he said.
He said when they reach Schneider from St. John they are put on the bottom of the waiting list.
Miller said that when he hears of people verbally abusing patients, he will deal with it.
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