Feb. 23, 2004 – Despite strong opposition to their proposed outpatient surgery center, several of the doctors involved tried to plead their case for the facility on Monday at an emotionally charged St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Nine local doctors — Byron Biscoe, Jeffrey Chase, Horace Griffith, Francesco Isolani, Derrick Jones, Catherine Kean, Michael Savage, Adam Shapiro and Sonia Taylor-Griffith — have partnered to establish the St. Thomas Ambulatory Surgical Center and are seeking a Certificate of Need from the Health Department. Such a certificate is required for any planned new health facility for the territory.
The group's attorney, David Bornn, told the chamber members and representatives of Roy L. Schneider Hospital — who strongly oppose the facility — that the privately operated center would provide residents with a "choice" and would not negatively impact the hospital.
"If there is no other facility, how can there be a choice?" Bornn asked, adding that many residents often go off-island for medical care. He said those seeking to build the center are "attempting to stem the flow of cases that are going off-island, and leaving that revenue here."
Bornn said the center would provide individuals needing outpatient surgical care with a "cheaper" alternative. Nationally, he said, ambulatory surgical centers on average are 46 percent less expensive than hospitals. He said the Medicare co-payment maximum is 20 percent.
Schneider Hospital also will benefit, Bornn stated, because of "enhanced and greater need for in-patient and diagnostic services" for "more serious cases."
Rodney E. Miller Sr., Schneider Hospital chief executive officer, strongly disputed Bornn's claims.
"Anything that is taken away from the hospital hurts the hospital," Miller said, referring to the number of outpatient cases that would go to the private facility. "This makes it very difficult for us where we have to take care of all, some of whom may not be able to pay."
Miller said the center potentially could mean a loss of about $2.7 million annually for the hospital.
Chase, who is on the Schneider Hospital medical staff, told the gathering: "If I truly believed that this would have a long-term negative effect on this hospital, I would not be doing this."
Miller also said the center would be a conflict of interest for participating doctors who are on the hospital's payroll. And that if the plan goes forward, he said, any doctors on his staff who are involved will no longer be employed by the hospital. Six members of the group are currently on the hospital staff.
"We certainly will not be supportive of them being employed by the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital, but we will not take away their privileges," Miller said.
Chase, in response to Miller's statements, said: "I feel very passionately that this is the best thing for the people of the Virgin Islands, and I'm still going to pursue it."
Dr. Frank Odlum, the hospital's chief of surgery, said if the center is established, 17 percent of the hospital's outpatient clients will go to the private facility. And insurance companies would more than likely mandate that certain surgeries be done at the center, he said.
"If there was an absolute surety that this would not hurt the revenues of the hospital, then fine," Odlum said. But that is highly unlikely, he added.
Beverly Chongasing, member of the Schneider Hospital board, said the center would hurt the hospital. "If the hospital is allowed to lose all this money and slip, everybody is going to be affected," she said.
Reactions of the Chamber of Commerce board members were mixed as the debate went on.
"If you're denied the opportunity of free enterprise, then that's a problem," Joe Aubain, chamber executive director, said. He said the two factions will need to come to an agreement in order for the proposed facility to work.
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