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HomeNewsLocal governmentSenators Concerned About Slow Hospital Rebuild, Emergency Wait Times, and Delayed Income

Senators Concerned About Slow Hospital Rebuild, Emergency Wait Times, and Delayed Income

Darryl Smalls and Doug Koch testified to Senators on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Sen. Ray Fonseca was saying look at the bright side. “The territory is getting two new hospitals and a cancer treatment facility on St. John.” Sen. Kenneth Gittens, however, approached it differently at Wednesday’s Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services meeting.

He said he was very disappointed at the reports he was hearing from Doug Koch, chief executive officer of Juan F. Luis Hospital, and Darryl Smalls, executive director of the Territorial Hospital Redevelopment Team. Gittens pointed out that it had been years since the hurricanes of 2017 had destroyed the hospitals, and demolition of some of the buildings had not even commenced.

Smalls testified on the recovery efforts in transitioning the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital to the temporary JFL North facility, the permanent St. Croix hospital building, and the construction and development of the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute and the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center. He said demolition of the damaged JFL hospital building should be started by the end of this calendar year, and building the new hospital would take over five years.

Smalls said many stateside government entities replaced storm-destroyed facilities immediately and then filed for reimbursement from FEMA. He said the Virgin Islands did not have the resources to do it that way and had to get all the FEMA approvals for funds before it could proceed with a project. He added that FEMA called his office every day requesting more information.

Sen. Samuel Carrion also saw things differently than Koch. In his remarks about the emergency room response time, Koch said the wait was two hours. Carrion said it was not his experience, or that of anyone he knew, to get in and out of the emergency room in two hours.

Koch testified that one problem impacting the emergency department at JFL North is its “struggle with the problem of boarders — patients who no longer need acute hospitalization but cannot be discharged due to limited services, such as long-term care beds, assisted living facilities, and home health care in the territory.”

However, he added, “Thanks to the collaboration of various agencies and individuals, we have managed to lower the number of boarders from over 10 to just three.”

JFL North, according to testimony, has 52 inpatient beds, 16 emergency beds, two trauma beds, and four behavioral health observation beds. The new hospital building will have more than 100 beds.

Koch’s mention that the hospital had difficulty collecting the $7 million Medicaid owed to it raised concerns for Fonseca, who chaired the meeting. Fonseca questioned how the hospital could pay its bills when that income stream was not open.

Koch said the hospital could stay current with Government Employees’ Retirement System payments but was falling behind on its Water and Power Authority payments.

Smalls testified that construction has begun for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute. He said J. Benton Construction had been sent a notice to proceed on March 2. The project is expected to be completed in September 2025. The construction cost is set at $29 million.

Smalls added, “FEMA has provided the badly damaged Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center with a fixed-cost offer for $37 million. The Office of Disaster Recovery’s territorial rebuilding initiative includes the rehabilitation work for MKS as part of the St. John vertical bundle. This initiative is expected to be solicited by the third quarter of 2024.”

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