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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 14, 2024


March 14, 2002 – At a Senate Health and Hospitals Committee hearing Wednesday, hospital food-service workers and an administrator each shared concerns about internal problems plaguing Juan F. Luis Hospital.
Longtime food-service workers described contractual differences over matters they said are jeopardizing patient care and sanitation practices. The administrator cited employee theft and absenteeism affecting management's ability to maintain staff schedules and job assignments.
The committee hearing on Luis Hospital issues also included status updates on the hospital morgue and dialysis unit.
Three veteran food-service employees testified about what they described as tension brewing within their unit. Shop steward and dietary aide Shirley Williams said there is a need for in-service training for government workers, who make up half of the 50 food service employees on staff. The other half are contract workers. "All the training we got was when Aramak was rushing to train before accreditation took place," she said.
The Aramak contract for food services has expired, and the hospital is seeking proposals for a supplier.
Williams said her 20-plus years with the dietary unit have given her knowledge of appropriate dietary needs and patient care. Differences in discipline between government and contract workers, contractor workers' lack of food-service experience, and internal conflicts are factors that affect the flow of operations in the food service area, which provides patient dietary needs, cafeteria meal preparation and catering services, she said.
Rose Bennett, a 22-year Health employee, referring to Thomas Robinson, Luis Hospital chief executive officer, told the Senators, "Mr. Robinson doesn't know half of what is going on" with regard to the employees' staffing concerns.
Bennett, who began her career at the old Harwood Hospital, said it is her love of patient care that has led her to knock on Senate doors over the years. "I've been talking to the senators for decades," she said.
Citing the need for culturally sensitive menu planning that also meets dietary needs, she said, "I've seen cattle-tongue dumpling and saltfish on the trays of diabetics; that is not healthy for them."
Food-service witnesses also expressed concerns about utensil sterilization, depreciation of food service equipment, and what they termed the administration's lack of knowledge about or adherence to contract requirements.
From the management perspective, Wanda Evangelista, assistant director of dietary services, said a new computerized inventory system to keep track of food supplies on hand "works great." She noted that previously, the inventorying "was done manually by one person."
Told of the need to curtail extensive loss through pilferage of food staples such as sacks of rice and canned goods, Canton asked Evangelista what disciplinary measures are in place to deal with theft. He noted to the use of magnetic bar codes in retail establishments. Referring to the issues raised by dietary workers, he also suggested that Evangelista familiarize herself with details of the Aramak food service contract.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen voiced her opposition to the hospital's semi-autonomous status. "This issue with Aramak has been boiling for some time," she said Hansen. "To pretend that we are hearing these issues for the first time is not truthful."
Citing issues of non-government employees preparing work schedules, supervising and docking employees, she told Evangelista that government employee and contract personnel issues should be addressed separately.
Upgrading of morgue
Dr. William Fogarty, medical examiner for both the hospital and the V.I. Justice Department, said money has been appropriated for the purchase and installation of a dual refrigeration unit, drainage and ventilation of the morgue facility at the hospital. The current 12-corpse capacity unit serves both the hospital and the Justice Department.
Fogarty and Ann Doute, clinical services administrator at JFL, stressed the need for a disaster preparedness plan to address the potential problems of capacity overflow and long-term storage of corpses.
The contract for the backup unit came about in response to the failure of the refrigeration unit last July over the long Independence Day holiday weekend, when several bodies suffered extensive decomposition which resulting in lawsuits. The Senate approved a $100,000 appropriation on Jan. 14 to expedite the project. Doute said a letter dated Jan. 24 was sent to the governor requesting $50,000 to pay the contractor, Raycon Construction, to begin the project, which is expected to be completed in 90 days.
The contingency plan of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency includes the use of the Charles Harwood Complex morgue, according to Doute, who has been the emergency services coordinator for 15 years.
"There is need for inter-agency initiative," she said.
Fogarty said, "In the last five years, we have not used the morgue at Charles Harwood. But if we should have a mass disaster, it would play the role of a backup unit." He said an alternative would be to purchase refrigerated trucks..
Witnesses said plans are in place to demolish the Harwood Clinic morgue, and there was mention of a memo from the Attorney General's Office transferring ownership of the facility from the Justice Department back to the Health Department. Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., the committee chair, said he would "clarify those plans immediately." Health officials could not be reach for confirmation.
Dialysis unit operations
Neither Luis Hospital personnel nor patients were present to testify regarding another matter on the committee agenda, treatment at the hospital's hemodialysis unit. Canton circulated a two-page report on equipment secured for the unit, which serves more than 70 patients. He said $386,246 is budget for the unit to get two hemodialysis machines, two peritoneal dialysis machines, three reverse osmosis machines, and $31,448 worth of additional supplies.
Dialysis patients require treatment three times per week for up to five hours. The unit, which has 15 hemodialysis machines, is staffed by two physicians, one of whom also is responsible for in-patient and out-patient care, and a licensed practical nurse and technicians.

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