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Health Clinics Face Problems of Federal Funding, Staff Shortages, Director Says

Aug. 7, 2007 — While representatives from two local health-care clinics have spent the last year getting their finances in order, concerns remain about a lack of federal funding and a shortage of medical professionals.
Those concerns dominated the discussion during the second round of Senate budget hearings Tuesday.
After being severed from the Department of Health about seven years ago, both the East End Medical Center and Frederiksted Health Care experienced problems with transitioning into two self-sufficient private entities. On Tuesday, representatives from both agencies said the problems continue despite efforts to reconcile finances and improve the delivery of health-care services throughout both districts.
As a result, it would be difficult to tell whether either entity will ever be able to function without continued support from either the federal or local government, said the agencies' executive director, Anneta Adams Heyliger.
Testimony from other representatives revealed that the agencies' dependence on government funding could be problematic. For the East End Center, past administrative problems and low patient numbers have resulted in a loss of federal funding needed to subsidize various operating expenses. On the St. Croix side, Frederiksted Health Care is slated to receive a budget cut for fiscal year 2008, having received a recommendation from the Office of Management and budget that is $165,000 less than what they requested.
For FY 2008, OMB recommended a budget of nearly $1.2 million for the East End Clinic, and an appropriation of about $1.4 million for its St. Croix counterpart. In both cases, a substantial chunk of the funding will be devoted to personnel costs and corresponding fringe benefits.
"The support of not only the federal government, but also the local government, is vital to the survival of the East End Medical Corp.," said Debra Wright Francis, the clinic's medical director. "Funds are required to make sure every member of our society is able to obtain quality health care in a reasonable time frame."
East End's board chair, Patricia A. Nathan, also outlined a list of other challenges burdening the agency, including the growing number of uninsured residents in the territory and a lack of available health-care professionals.
East End's current location in the Tutu Park Mall is not readily accessible to residents, prompting the agency to look for a new site in Four Winds Plaza, she said.
Both entities also need in-house dental clinics, and they need to address pending issues associated with the transition from the Department of Health, Heyliger added.
Having heard similar issues discussed during previous budget hearings, senators questioned why the agencies pursued the option of changing over into private corporations. Heyliger explained that certain federal funds would not have been available had the two entities remained under the auspices of the Department of Health.
Earlier in the meeting, senators also heard testimony from Betty Mahoney, representing the V.I. Council on the Arts. She explained that her agency had requested an FY 2008 budget of $597,054, but had received a recommendation of $350,000 from OMB.
The cut would hamper the council's ability to match funds awarded by the federal government, which goes toward grants for local organizations, programs and projects, she explained. After the meeting, Mahoney said that the inability to provide a match could result in a loss of federal funding given to the agency during FY 2008.
Present during Tuesday's hearing were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Carmen M. Wesselhoft.
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