June 14, 2001 – A bill to fine tune the semi-autonomy of the territory's hospitals was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health and Hospitals Committee.
Sponsored by Sen. Douglas Canton, the committee chair, the "Healthcare Quality Improvement Act" would give the hospitals more say in hiring practices, among other things, and would let them acquire new equipment without having to go through a lengthy bidding process.
In another meeting of the committee earlier this month, health and hospital officials were sharply divided on the measure. The deputy Health commissioner, Lucien Moolenaar, had objected to allowing the hospitals more latitude for fear it would cause duplication of services. Both hospitals' top administrators disagreed. Eugene A. Woods, Roy Schneider Hospital chief executive officer, and Thomas Robinson, Juan Luis Hospital CEO, said it would "streamline" health care.
The bill also provides for the hospitals' CEO's, as well as the V.I. director of personnel, to sit on the Health Insurance Board, a measure again strongly endorsed by both hospital chiefs and challenged by Moolenaar.
The measure as approved at Wednesday's meeting on St. Thomas included several amendments discussed at the previous meeting that allow the hospitals more independence. One would exempt all "critical" hospital employees from the attrition program (previously the exemption included only doctors and nurses). Another provides for improving coordination among the Health Department, the hospitals and the Myrah Keating Smith Health Center of St. John, which falls under the Schneider Hospital administration, by developing a clear understanding of the roles of each entity.
Sen. David Jones offered an amendment making all peer-review information confidential except in cases of criminal conduct.
The bill will now go to the Rules Committee.
The committee also addressed "the steady decline" in the Health Department's Division of Mental Health – Alcoholism and Drug Dependency services. Jaslene Williams, division acting director, said the situation has worsened as Health and Mental Health "have been forced to … provide quality services without one key necessity." This, she said, is "consistent leadership that could advocate for their respective minimum needs."
Williams said general deficiencies within the division include:
– Unhealthy and unsafe mental health facilities.
– An increasing volume of court orders to provide residential treatment, with no funding to do so.
– Extremely limited psychological services on St. Croix.
– Loss of federal funds.
– Lack of a detoxification facility in the territory.
"Substance abuse is prevalent in our society, like all societies," Williams said, and V.I. young people are at "terrible" risk.
And gambling addiction is now "the new monster in our midst," with people losing their cars and homes. "We are not ready, and we have no immediate hope of addressing this issue," she said.
The Avis reported that Williams also said the Charles Harwood Complex on St. Croix and the Michelle Motel facility on St. Thomas could lose federal funding because of disrepair. The newspaper also said that Mavis Matthew, acting Health commissioner, told the panel that the long-vacant position of mental health director had been filled. She didn't name the person hired but spoke of him in glowing terms.
William Elliott, chair of the V.I. Mental Health Advisory Council, said the council has played a vital role over the last 15 years in improving mental health services. However, he said, a "considerable amount of money has been spent on off-island treatment." Williams said he believes "most of that funding should be redirected to the territory to build and enhance services for long-term care."
Committee members at the morning session in addition to Canton and Jones were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Roosevelt David. Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Vargrave Richards were excused.
With only Canton and Berry returning for the afternoon session, the panel of two heard testimony about the disbursement revenues from the $1 emergency services surcharge on customers' telephone bills.
Ian E. Williams Sr., acting Fire Services director, testified, as he had earlier, that his department has received and is using the funds to which it is entitled. A representative from Emergency Medical Services gave a brief breakdown of that agency's utilization of its surcharge funds.
However, Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull failed to appear for the second time that the committee had invited her. This provoked Canton to conclude the meeting with the comment that he was "surprised" the commissioner or a representative hadn't shown up. "Without her, the questioning process on this matter would be difficult," he said.


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