JFL Board Learns How Power Outage Affected Hospital

JFL board member Troy DeChabert Schuster reports to the board.A generator malfunction during April’s islandwide power outage affected operations at the Juan F. Luis Hospital, blacking out the hospital for four and a half hours and causing damage to equipment, some of which has yet to be repaired, the hospital’s board of directors was told Wednesday night.

The board also discussed staffing, salaries and finances.

CEO Dr. Kendall Griffith told the board the hospital’s one working generator began to falter about four hours after the start of the April 18 power failure. At about 10 a.m. the unit failed completely and was out for four and a half hours.

Griffith said an air bubble in the fuel line was the suspect in the generator failure. He added that the line is flowing now, but there are no check valves to prevent a recurrence.

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The hospital’s second generator is down because a fabricated heat exchanger and repairs are not expected until June.

JFL’s cooling and ventilation systems also didn’t function properly during the 13-hour outage, Griffith said. Due to power surges, several machines were damaged, including the CT scan, which is still not repaired.

Hard hit departments were those with no uninterruptible power supplies – radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, information technology and the operating room. Problems with the potable water supply were reported after the event, but Griffith said the water has been tested and is satisfactory.

“No patients, staff members or visitors were adversely impacted as a result of the power outage,” Griffith said.

During his report, Griffith outlined short-term and long-term corrections plans, beginning within the next three weeks. Repairing the second generator will be expedited and a plan to correct the fuel supply issue will be prepared and funded first.

In the next three months, the fuel line will be replaced from the holding tank to the generators, and additional emergency lighting sources will be purchased.

The long-term plan involves replacing the emergency generators and renovating the emergency power distribution system.

Philip Arcidi, board treasurer, added that required testing on the systems had been completed according to U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid regulations.

In his report, Griffith said the governor has approved $7 million funding from the 31st Legislature to help the hospital perform a systems improvement agreement to retain CMS certification.

On April 28, $1.96 million was disbursed to cover some of the first expenses.

CMS will review the hospital in August or September to see if the facility has come into compliance with federal guidelines.

Another $1 million was received from CIGNA – an insurance refund earmarked to rebuild the mental health unit. The psychiatric holding area in the emergency department should be activated within the next 14 days, Griffith said.

Five practitioners were given hospital privileges including two in emergency medicine, a general surgeon and two who specialize in orthopedic surgery and internal medicine. A newly hired hematologist/oncologist will be on St. Croix by the end of the month, the CEO reported.

Other staffing changes include reassigning several employees to new positions and eliminating one executive assistant position to save $14,357 a year. At the same time, board chair Dr. Anthony Ricketts said Ken Okolo, chief operating officer, and Tim Lessing, chief financial officer, recommended adding new positions, including an executive assistant for Okolo. They also recommended the hospital hire a director of public relations, a physician recruiter, another electrician and maintenance, dietary and housekeeping staff. One of the positions will be an in-house appointment and the others will reduce overtime by as much as 50 percent, Lessing said. Salaries were not discussed.

After Ricketts’ report from the human resources committee, the board approved, without discussion, a new $200,000 salary for the chief medical director, Dr. Mavis Matthew.

In his financial report, Lessing said that expenses climbed from $5.8 million last March to $7.2 million this year, mainly due to salary increases and purchase services. Admissions are down four percent compared to last year and surgeries are also down. The CFO said they haven’t identified any way to increase business. This year to date, $4.8 million has been lost “primarily in the first few months of the year,” compared to $4 million in 2014.

On the bright side, gross patient charges were $11.2 million compared to $10.1 million in 2014. Last year 76 cents of every dollar was charged off, he said, but this year that number is down to 60 cents.. Lessing said that if the numbers continue as they have been, the hospital could reach a positive cash flow by the end of the fiscal year – Sept. 30.

“The improvement of the overall bottom line of the organization is – compared to last year – $890,000. That’s for March,” he said.

Ricketts said it will be necessary to look at staffing and the labor force compared to the number of admissions and adjust accordingly.

Early in the meeting, Ricketts said research of the hospital’s bylaws shows that a quorum is the majority of members “currently in office” and since there are only five members, a quorum is three members. JFL attorney Richard Evangelista said when more members are appointed, the number to reach a quorum will also increase.

Ricketts introduced the new director of human resources – Frank Abednego.

Attending the meeting were Ricketts, Arcidi, Troy DeChabert Schuster and Joyce Heyliger.

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