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HomeNewsArchivesGovernor Works to Resolve Frederiksted Health Center Problems

Governor Works to Resolve Frederiksted Health Center Problems

Oct. 7, 2008 — Following a sick-out Oct. 1 by most of the staff at the Frederiksted Health Center, Gov. John deJongh Jr. met with clinic management, board members and the Health Department, setting a deadline of 30 days for "resolution of the issues" troubling the facility.
"The continued operations of the Frederiksted Health Center are too important to the St. Croix community to allow issues that have existed since 2002 to go unresolved," deJongh said in a Government House news release.
The clinic's Frederiksted facility has been closed for mold remediation since April, and operations moved to a wing of the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged in Kingshill. (See "Frederiksted Health Center Closes for Four to Five Months.") The Grigg Home is about a 15-minute drive from the Frederiksted center.
The cleanup, minor renovation and major air-conditioning overhaul was meant to last four to five months, ending about now. But delays in getting funding have delayed the work. Clinic director Masserae Sprauve-Webster sounded the alarm in June, asking the Legislature to appropriate funds and assist in getting funds released. (See "Lack of Mold Cleanup Funds Keeps Health Center Closed.")
At the same hearing, several employees testified they were chronically sick and unable to work for extended periods of time because of exposure to the mold, and others complained that the clinic's management had been too lax in addressing the mold problem. They also asked for help resolving benefit and back-leave issues dating back a number of years.
Now Webster anticipates the clinic will reopen in Frederiksted by the end of the year.
"The fundamental delay was our inability to access the funds," Webster said Tuesday. "They were appropriated but never released to the Frederiksted Health Center. Ultimately they were released to the Department of Health. So those things took time. But now, with the governor helping to cut through the red tape, they will be turned over to the health center."
The work at the clinic is being done in three phases, Webster said. Environmental Concepts, or EnCon has completed Phase One, cleanup and remediation.
"They were the only vendor willing or able to work without being paid up front," Webster said. "When we got to Phase Two, the company needed money to buy the air-conditioning units, hire plumbers and electricians and so on, so they needed funds for mobilization. So Phase Two is at a standstill. In Phase Three, EnCon comes back in and seals it all up."
Employees at the clinic are upset at the stalled work there and not happy with conditions at the temporary location. They continue to ask to have their leave and benefit issues resolved. These concerns led to last week's sick-out.
"We discussed quite a few of the issues of concern with the employees Friday," Webster said. "A lot had to do with the fact they were transferred to the private clinic from working for the government, and their sick leave did not transfer with them. It was promised, but to date it has not happened."
The center was transferred from government to a private organization in 2006, she said. Since then, there have been problems getting annual time owed to employees transferred, and no funds have been turned over to the center from the Health Department to pay for those hours of leave.
DeJongh has set a 30-day deadline for resolution of the issues. He called on Public Works to provide technical assistance to finalize work on mold remediation, air-conditioning system quotes, plumbing work and establishing a water-sprinkler system, and on Property and Procurement to process a lease agreement for the Frederiksted property for $1 per year, in accordance with an act of the Legislature. The Health Department will coordinate a working group of government agencies, including GERS, which will address employee annual-leave balances, and Finance, which will work on a strategy to reconcile the salary-reimbursement and program-income issues, according to the Government House statement.
"I look forward to these longstanding problems and challenges to be resolved in the best interest of those served by the (clinic), as well the center's staff and administrators," deJongh said.
In 2007 the Frederiksted Health Clinic saw nearly 10,000 patients, of whom 58 percent were uninsured, according to statistics provided by Webster during budget hearings this summer. Another 31 percent were covered through the local Medical Assistance Program, highlighting the importance of the clinic to many Frederiksted-area residents who would otherwise have limited access to care.
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