The board of the Schneider Regional Medical Center declared the hospital to be in a "state of exigency" because of its still-ailing finances, which makes it unable to fulfill some financial obligations.
In her report, Board Secretary Maria Tankenson-Hodge said the decision, made under Title 24 of the V.I. Code., was "in connection to the hospital’s long standing desire" to give raises to its nurses.
Earlier in the board meeting, Schneider Chief Executive Officer Bernard Wheatley had reported that raises totaling $1.5 million were given to nurses who are members of the the Virgin Islands State Nurses Association, averaging a 10 percent salary increase per nurse.
“We’ve been wanting to give them raises for a long time, we just didn’t have enough money,” said Hodge. “Now we have some of the money at least, so we’ve given a unilateral raise.”
Hodge also announced that an annualized increase in pay – totaling $526,000 – will be given to nurses under the Nurses Leadership Union. The increase will be prorated over an eight-month period beginning in February.
The move, however, came during a period when the hospital has had difficulty paying for some services, including anesthesia services. That financial condition caused the board to declare the "state of exigency."
In a communication with the Source after the meeting, Hodge emphasized that the decision to give the raises did not cause the "state of exigency."
"The board did not say that it was was the nurses’ raise that caused that the hospital to face a crisis of financial exigency, or that left us unable to pay for anesthesia services," Hodge explained. "In fact, it was the existing financial challenges – including serious deficit – that created the financial exigency, and that declaration allowed us to implement the pay increases outside the formal collective bargaining process."
Chief Financial Officer Fred Vitello reported earlier that the hospital was already budgeting for a $6 million loss in fiscal year 2015, and recommended that they “tighten the belt.”
Because of a previously awarded grant, the board was able to approve a contract with Evertech, a Puerto Rican technology company that would upgrade the hospital’s information services infrastructure.
Building a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure is a major focus of the hospital’s strategic plan.
The contract, costing $913,026, covers two phases. The first phase, which would cost the hospital an initial $589,832, would install servers for the hospital’s day-to-day operations, address cyber security, and improve its data storage capacity. The second phase would cost the remainder of the contract amount, and should address usability issues that arise from the phase-one improvement.
According to Wheatley, lack of proper protocol and communication between government agencies is also costing the hospital.
He said that four months ago, acting under court order, the Department of Justice brought in a 19-year-old St. Croix man accused of murder to be treated in the hospital’s behavioral services unit. The patient was sent to Schneider because St. Croix’s Juan F. Luis Memorial Hospital lacked the necessary treatment services.
The problem, Wheatley said, was Schneider was also ill-equipped to handle the patient, lacking a forensic psychiatry unit. The patient was admitted to Schneider nonetheless, assigned with security for two weeks until the Department of Justice could no longer pay for the overtime.
“There needs to be more consultation, medical staff to medical staff, before going to the judicial system to remand the patient to Schneider,” Wheatley said.
Schneider’s legal team took the matter to court, but no decision has yet been made on what to do with the patient, who continues to reside in Schneider Hospital since his admission four months ago.
Wheatley said the hospital sent hospital bills in the amount of $131,000 to the Department of Health, which recommended the patient’s admission to Schneider, according to the hospital’s investigation. And the costs continue to rise.
“We’re trying to do the best for him,” said Wheatley, “but we have constraints. We need to have better dialogue between these different departments.”
Editor’s note: This story has been edited to clarify the decision to give the nurses raises in the context of the hospital’s larger financial picture, and make it clear the pay increase did not directly cause or lead to the "state of exigency."