Since the 2017 hurricanes, St. Croix residents needing hospital care have been treated in a condemned facility. Tuesday, there was a ribbon cutting to indicate the imminent opening of Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital-North — a state-of-the-art healthcare center that, for another five years or so, will serve the public until a new hospital is built.
Most of the ceremony’s speakers commented on the numerous delays during construction of the hardened structure and thanked each other for their stamina.
“The long-awaited opening of JFL North is upon us,” Doug Koch, JFL chief executive officer, told a standing-room-only crowd.
Koch thanked government partners — the V.I. Health Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Disaster Recovery, the Finance commissioner, the Territorial Hospital board and Daryl Smalls, director of the Territorial Hospital Redevelopment Team, for “unwavering support.”
“It is indeed a good day,” Adrienne Williams-Octalien, director of the Office of Disaster Recovery, said. “How grateful we are, but there is much to be done.”
Williams-Octalien, who approved bills to reconstruct the islands after the hurricanes, pointed out how long it took to deal with FEMA. In 2018, the federal agency approved $550,000 for Juan Luis, then increased it to $42.7 million after determining the hospital was completely destroyed. The final amount approved for the territory’s healthcare facilities is $130 million. Fortunately, she added, U.S Housing and Urban Development paid the required matching funds.
“We must have had the world record for roadblocks,” Senate President Novelle Francis said. He thanked staff for hard work and residents for their patience. He said he hopes as the hospitals are rebuilt, everyone “learns from the many lessons learned.”
Delays during construction included certifying utility lines, technical issues, and a shortage of steel and other supplies. Other delays were caused by management turnover. In five years, there were five CEOs, 3 CFOs, and three chief legal counsels without enough administrators to maintain continuity of daily operations, according to the V.I. Inspector General’s Office.
“Some people graduate magna cum laude. Some summa cum laude. This project — thank you, laude,” Bryan quipped.
The hospital rebuilds, at $130 million, are the largest projects the Virgin Islands has ever seen, according to the governor. He said he spoke with a territorial official in Washington D.C., who was asking for $40 million to build a hospital. She couldn’t believe $130 million would build four facilities.
Bryan commended the hospitals for making it through the pandemic despite extensive hurricane damage.
“Today we cut the ribbon on a brand new frontier of health care providing in the Virgin Islands. I’m doing my part to make sure Virgin Islanders stay healthy and live their best life,” he finished.
Other speakers included Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach, Smalls, and Christopher Finch, Territorial Hospital board president.
Carlotta Luis, daughter of Gov. Juan Luis, for whom the hospital is named, attended the event. Troy de-Chabert Schuster and his family were thanked for donating the St. Croix hospital land.
After the ceremony, Koch and Smalls conducted tours of the facility. Tours also will be given to the public on Wednesday and Thursday. Patients will be moved to the new hospital on March 25, officials said.