After an unusual example of transparency during a board meeting, Oranefo Ken Okolo was named chief executive officer of the Gov. Juan Luis Hospital Monday night by the governing board.
Okolo was appointed interim CEO in January after Dr. Kendall Griffith stepped down to return to private practice as a cardiologist.
Before the board voted, Xiomara Torres, testified, at Okolo’s invitation, about two experiences at the St. Croix hospital over the last year. Her story described uncaring staff, lengthy wait time and errors in diagnosis, treatment and discharge.
Torres said the first bad experience occurred in the nursery after her premature daughter was born. Nursing staff delayed feeding her daughter an hour after her scheduled time and when Torres complained, the three-pound infant was handled roughly.
“She grabbed and threw my daughter in the incubator,” Torres said. She told her story to the patient advocate and the chief nursing officer at the time.
Now a year old, the child was taken to the emergency room recently, at the direction of her pediatrician, with a fever of 102 degrees. Torres said the ER staff worker treated her “impersonally” and ignored the parents for 30 minutes until an off-duty nurse observed the distressed baby and parents and spoke to the staff.
After another 30 minutes, a chest X-ray was taken and an ER doctor appeared to examine the child. An IV was inserted to administer medication and after a short time, Torres noticed her daughter’s arm was swollen with fluid. The IV was removed immediately by a nurse Torres described as conscientious and professional, who followed their progress throughout the night. The fever rose to 103.4 and pneumonia was diagnosed, but the Torres were not allowed to admit their daughter right away because they were upset, she said.
Once again Torres called for the patient advocate and chief nursing officer, who expedited admission and arranged for a bed for the mother as well as a crib for the baby. Two days were spent in the hospital and one department reported to Torres’s pediatrician that they left the hospital and another department said they were discharged.
Torres said the discharge papers were incorrect – the IV was not documented and the wrong insurance company was named.
The X-ray determined that the diagnosis was viral bronchitis, which would have been treated with another medication, according to Torres.
“It’s a disgrace. We were treated not like even a number,” she said. “We don’t have a hospital to depend on with basic medical services.”
Torres said she missed another two days of work and came down with bronchitis as well. She made several calls until she was able to meet with Okolo, who said she should talk to the board.
“We have nothing to hide. It is part of our openness – transparency,” Okolo said.
After Torres recounted her experiences, the board president, Troy de Chabert-Schuster, apologized profusely and promised to “set policies” to prevent a reoccurrence.
The board immediately went into executive session.
During the executive session, the board discussed Torres’s story and corrective actions, according to de Chabert-Schuster. Okolo agreed that action was being taken to educate staff and provide mentors to improve professional, caring attitudes.
“The care was good, the attitude wasn’t,” he said.
The board also voted to extend a three-year, $360,000 CEO contract to Okolo, lift the two-year hiring freeze, and empowered the CEO to hire critical-care physicians for the emergency department.
Okolo thanked the board for its support and said one of his goals is to make JFL a hospital people “like to come to.”
“We will learn from errors made in the past. We will insure the care we deliver here will match care given anywhere,” he said.
The board also approved 34 virtual radiologists, two physician reappointments, four new medical staff appointments and a dozen amendments to the bylaws.
Due to the length of Torres’s testimony, the financial and committee reports were postponed.
The January financial statement reported revenues of $4.8 million – four and a half percent under budget – and expenses of $6.5 million – almost eight percent better than forecast. The bottom line gain was $65,756, or 108 percent better than the budgeted loss of $822,185.
Board members attending the meeting were de Chabert-Schuster, Philip Arcidi, Joyce Heyliger, Vera Falu and Aracelis de Hendry-Walcott.