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HOSPITAL WORKERS SAY COMPLAINTS ARE IGNORED

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Feb. 26, 2002 – At a Senate committee hearing on working conditions at Roy L. Schneider Hospital Monday night, employees painted a grim picture of deficiencies in existence for years and even decades, while administration representatives said investigations of some allegations have found no violations.
Several hospital employees told the Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee that their complaints go unheard.
Darrell Ruan, an operating room technician, said the hospital is not "up to date," the mask and gloves he uses are "inappropriate," and vapors in the operating room severely affect the employees. Under questioning by the senators, Ruan said he has voiced these same complaints to his supervisors and to union representatives "since 1982."
Hospital employees Carmen Henley and Ermine St. Clair said they have received their notices of personnel action, or NOPA's, but haven't received their negotiated salary increases. They said they were told they wouldn't receive any increases until the union goes into negotiation again. However, hospital legal counsel Amos Carty Jr. said some employees may not be eligible for salary increases.
After listening to several of the employees' complaints, Norma Pickard-Samuel, the committee chair, said it might be time for the government to consider once again taking over the hospital management. "The hospital's board of trustees and administration have the responsibility to make sure that the employees do not receive such bad treatment," she said. "The hospital management must understand that the public will not be adequately served if the concerns of its employees are not addressed."
Several years ago, the government chose to get out of the hospital management business, creating separate executive agencies with their own hospital governing boards for the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John districts.
John Sheen, executive assistant labor commissioner, read a statement to the committee from Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin stating that "several complaints were filed with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA, against [Schneider] hospital in June 2000." Benjamin's statement said that the complaints alleged a lack of personal protective equipment, employees being exposed to incinerator fumes, the absence of signs to warn workers about contaminated areas, and employees not being trained to operate the incinerator or to dispose of hazardous waste.
However, Benjamin said, an OSHA inspector found that only the incinerator fumes were a violation of safety rules. And Darrell Smalls, Schneider Hospital director of maintenance and engineering, said Planning and Natural Resources Department officials visited the site and found no violations. The statement continued, "We are unaware of any other labor issues affecting the hospital … that fall under the purview of the Department of Labor."
Attorney Archie Jennings, representing the Seafarers International Union, brought up another complaint — that Schneider Hospital security officers do not have weapons and are inadequately trained. He said these concerns have been taken to hospital management but there has been "no response."
Pickard-Samuel said she was aware of that situation and has drafted legislation mandating that the hospital security officers be designated "peace officers."
"I would like to sit back and say the hospitals in the territory are the best in the world," Pickard-Samuel said at one point. "But I cannot with these complaints … Without these employees, no matter how much money is placed in its budget, the hospital will not function properly."
Committee members attending the hearing in addition to Picard-Samuel were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Donald "Ducks" Cole, Vargrave Richards and Celestino A. White Sr. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was absent. Sen. Carlton Dowe, a non-member, also was present.

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