Aug. 8, 2008 — The V.I. Hospitals and Health Facilities Corp. board of directors voted Friday to place two of Schneider Regional Medical Center's top executives — Amos Carty Jr. and Peter Najawicz — on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the findings of a recent joint local and federal audit.
In so doing, the board followed the recommendations last week of Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Attorney General Vincent Frazer. Board members announced at the St. Thomas meeting that until the investigation — which will be conducted by the board — is complete, Elizabeth J. Harris, the medical center's vice president of quality and performance improvement, will replace Carty as interim chief executive officer. Eugene E. Welsh, currently a technical assistant at Public Works, will serve as the hospital's interim chief financial officer.
Welsh previously served as the hospital's director of financial services for six years, starting in 1994.
Harris and Welsh will be paid at their current salaries until new ones are set, said board secretary Faustina S. Richardson. Meanwhile, Carty and Najawicz will be paid according to salaries outlined in their government Notices of Personnel Action (NOPAs) — which amounts to an annual $150,000 for Carty and $80,000 for Najawicz, according to board member Michele Berkley.
Most of the board's decisions were made during a two-hour executive session, which started about 15 minutes after the meeting was called to order. All members voted unanimously to put Carty and Najawicz on paid leave and to appoint Harris and Welsh temporarily to the open positions, Richardson said after the meeting reconvened in public session around 12:45 p.m.
During the break, it was revealed that Dr. Shirnett K. Williamson, radiation oncologist at Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute, and her husband and CKCI's research director, Derrick S. Grant, had resigned.
"The resignations came about two days ago," Edward B. Aribisala, CKCI administrator and vice president of oncology services, said. "She [Williamson] said she will be going to Pennsylvania around the middle of next month and plans to be on staff at a medical center there. In the meantime, she will be making sure that the patients she has will be taken care of before she leaves. We'll have a radiation oncologist here covering for her, and we're working feverishly now to get someone full time."
Williamson said she was "tired" with "what was going on" at the cancer center and was "surprised" at the findings of the audit, Aribisala said, adding that the couple "will be sorely missed."
Before going into executive session, the board appointed Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin Maduro as its vice chair and Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb as the board's treasurer. Maduro replaces June Adams, who was recently asked by the governor to resign from her position as chair of Schneider Regional's governing board. Hospital board members Beverly Chongasing, Natalie Thomas, Francis Jackson and Doradean Williams were also asked to resign (See "Top Schneider Officials Going on Paid Leave for Investigation.")
The audit, a joint effort by the offices of the inspectors general of the Department of the Interior and the Virgin Islands, revealed that hospital executives, including former Chief Executive Officer Rodney E. Miller Sr., received hefty compensation packages, approved by Schneider Regional board members. At the end of his five years at the helm of the hospital, Miller had allegedly racked up close to $3.8 million in salary and associated perks, while Carty and Najawicz were receiving thousands more than the $80,000 salaries included in their NOPAs — documents that show, among other things, what government employees were paid.
In addition to approving the packages, the report said, board members deliberately withheld documents and other information from investigators while the audit was going on.
As a criminal investigation into the audit's findings continues, V.I. Superior Court Judge James S. Carroll on Thursday granted a request from the attorney general to temporarily freeze any of the personal assets belonging to Miller, Carty or Najawicz that would be forfeited if they are charged and convicted, according to a V.I. Daily News article.
Meanwhile, to fill the board's new vacancies, deJongh has nominated Dilsa Capdeville, founder of KidScope; attorney Maria Tankenson-Hodge; Vincent Samuel, chief executive officer for the University of the Virgin Islands; Miles Stair, who will represent St. John; and Cornel Williams, president of St. Thomas-based International Capital and Management. While the Legislature works on confirming the nominees, the V.I. Hospitals and Health Facilities Corp. board of directors is running the show, the governor said during a recent press conference.
During Friday's meeting, the corporation's board members also:
— put the findings of the audit on the record (during executive session);
— relieved the firm of Moore, Dodson and Russell of their duty as counsel to Schneider Regional's governing board (during executive session);
— approved a request by corporation board chairman Carmelo Rivera to retain a temporary board attorney;
— authorized the transfer of up to $25,000 from each from the budgets of the hospitals' district governing boards (for a total of $50,000) to cover the corporation board's administrative expenses; and
— placed three letters to the board from the attorney general on the record (during executive session — two of the letters advised the board to place Carty and Najawicz on leave, but the contents of the third letter "must remain confidential at this time," board members said).
"We will also immediately be in touch with the Joint Commission (on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) and they will be apprised of the actions taken today," Rivera said before the meeting adjourned. "Our accreditation is very important, and we want to make sure that they know we're being accountable to them and transparent."
Rivera repeated these sentiments to a group of medical center staff after the meeting, saying that he "wouldn't be surprised" if the commission decided to come down to the territory for an additional visit now that the audit has been released.
"This is certainly an extraordinary time for the hospital," he added. "We're asking for your teamwork and support and in return, we pledge our support to you. My expectation is that this doesn't have any impact on our patients — I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but all of you will be requested to play your parts. Remember, our first commitment is to patient care."
The board's next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 22.
Board members present during Friday's meeting were, Rivera, Gottlieb, Maduro, Finance Commissioner Claudette Watson-Anderson, Wallace Phaire, Berkley, Richardson, Frances M. Molloy, Aldria Harley Wade, Imelda Dizon and Health Commissioner Vivian I. Ebbesen-Fludd, who serves as an ex officio member of the board.
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