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New Med Center Chief Says First Steps Underway to Bring Back Cancer Center

There’s a banner hanging from the balcony overlooking the lobby at Roy Lester Schneider Hospital. It says, “Everyday Heroes Walk These Halls.” One of those heroes is now taking the lead as chief executive officer after 20 years of service.

The newly named chief of the Schneider Regional Medical Center, attorney Tina Comissiong, says she’s working with a territorial task force to start reconstruction for St. Thomas’ cancer center (Submitted photo)

Attorney Tina Comissiong applied for the job and was promoted at the end of a nationwide search, which attracted dozens of interested candidates. About three dozen staff members stood by to hear the announcement made by the chairman of the district hospital board.

As she thanked and praised staffers for their efforts to keep St. Thomas’ only hospital able to meet the challenges of bad weather and the Covid-19 pandemic, Comissiong said she’s wanted a chance at leadership since she began her career at Schneider Medical Center. And with the support of the hospital team, the new CEO said they can achieve great things.

Over the past five years, some of those present had endured the impact of two catastrophic storms on the medical center; some had helped evacuate patients from the fourth-floor medical ward when the winds of Hurricane Irma imploded the windows. Others moved in after the storm to perform round-the-clock maintenance in areas flooded by weeks of rain that followed Irma and Hurricane Maria, which struck two weeks later.

Schneider Hospital limped along, eventually regaining a measure of functionality. Other parts of the medical center, like neighboring Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute and the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic on St. John, didn’t fare as well. Keating stayed open for several days after the hurricanes but closed because of environmental problems. Kimelman suffered major structural damage and never reopened after September 2017.

That’s about to change, the new CEO says. “We’ve been working very diligently to bring back Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute because we know how important it is to our community to be able to provide our radiation oncology care and treatment,” Comissiong said after the brief Tuesday morning announcement.

Since 2005, the cancer center on St. Thomas has provided out-patient care and treatment for persons living in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Eastern Caribbean. But after 2017, Schneider Regional relocated the services for those receiving chemotherapy but could not offer radiation treatments.

The medical center’s former head of operations says he’s optimistic that some of the steps needed to get reconstruction under way will happen within the next few months. Daryl Smalls directs the Territorial Redevelopment Projects Task Force.

On Tuesday, Smalls said talks with his federal counterparts on the Kimelman restoration project were active and ongoing. “We are currently awaiting the fixed cost estimate from FEMA, after which we can move to the next stage,” he said. Once the federal government approves the estimates, plans can move ahead for reconstruction.

“We are very much optimistic that we will receive this information shortly,” Smalls said. If all goes as expected, a selective demolition of the damaged building could take place by summer, the director said.

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