The territory’s hospitals were devastated in the hurricanes of 2017 and, over three years later, are still wrestling with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over needed funding to replace and repair the USVI’s four major health facilities: Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, Schneider Regional Medical Center, Myrah Keating Smith Clinic and the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute.
The closest hospital to seeing improvement is the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, which has a nearly completed temporary structure – known as JFL North – that will provide health care to the community during the construction of a permanent hospital.
“While there are limitations to what can be offered in a 55,000 square foot hospital, we have worked to maximize the patient experience in every square foot of this space. It is important to note that JFL North contains approximately $29.8 million in brand new equipment and resources that will best serve the health care needs of our community,” the hospital’s chief executive officer Dyma Williams said during Thursday’s Senate Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure hearing.
JFL North is due for completion in June, but Williams said there are several steps that will occur after that.
“There are additional external projects and procedural and operational functions that must be planned for the transition to JFL North. Further, the entire building must be commissioned and certified before we can move into JFL North,” Williams said. “Following the completion of the JFL North building, we will have to transition all acute care into the building. We will then begin the process of transitioning the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center into an outpatient care center.”
Virgin Islands Office of Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien said FEMA has completed their first cost estimate for the replacement of the hospital, raising the initial cost estimate from $12.5 million to nearly $250 million.
“This cost estimate is now under review by the territory with the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s and has the potential to increase over the next couple of months before a final figure is agreed upon,” Williams-Octalien said.
While some progress has been made at Juan Luis Hospital, Schneider Regional lags behind.
“From the outset, FEMA has contested the level of damages to Roy L. Schneider Hospital,” Williams-Octalien said. According to a 2018 report done by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the repairs to the hospital would only be “a mere $4.5 million,” and Williams-Octalien said, “FEMA has pushed back on numerous damage assessments conducted by the territory over the past three years.”
Until FEMA can agree on the eligible damages, Williams-Octalien said, “the project cannot progress, which ultimately impacts the approval of a temporary hospital.”
Non-committee member and Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory said based on her experience over the past few years, FEMA takes upward of 180 days to make a decision.
“It is my fervent hope that a decision will be made early so we can address the issues that we have at Schneider because Schneider looks like the storm was yesterday, that the hurricanes were yesterday,” Frett-Gregory said.
A meeting has been scheduled with the federal agency for next week to review its comments on the damages, and this will afford the territory an opportunity to “provide further evidence of the level of damages,” Williams-Octalien said.
The Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute and the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic are also both still under review with FEMA. Williams-Octalien said the agency never completed the “50 percent rule calculation,” which determines if it is more cost-effective for a facility to be repaired or replaced.
“To expedite the process, last month ODR requested for the territory to be allowed to perform the 50 percent rule calculation and submit it for FEMA’s review,” Williams-Octalien said. The calculation showed repairing either facility would be more than 70 percent of the cost of replacement, meaning each facility “easily qualifies for replacement.”
Overall, senators were disappointed with the lack of progress made restoring the territory’s hospitals.
Committee Chairperson Sen. Janelle Sarauw said there were several “takeaways” from the hearing and none of them positive. She said there is a lack of cohesiveness in the process, lack of planning in some cases, qualified people were not in the correct positions on the hospital’s boards, Juan Luis Hospital will not be open in May as previously indicated by the governor, there is a lack of stable leadership at the hospitals and an overall lack of continuity.
Sens. Sarauw, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Genevieve Whitaker, Franklin Johnson and Carla Joseph were present for the hearing.
Editor’s note: The photo originally had an incorrect caption. It is Dyma Williams.