JFL Board Reverses Vote to Exclude Public from Meetings

The Gov. Juan Luis Hospital board of directors reversed itself Tuesday night regarding a vote taken last week to exclude the public from regular meetings and to hold public meetings quarterly rather than monthly.

“We did not intend to hide anything,” said Troy de Chabert-Schuster, board chairman. “We’re all busy and we were trying to streamline things.”

In May, the board held three meetings that included long executive sessions to deal with personnel issues.

On May 17, they voted to conduct business through the executive committee and dispense with full board meetings.

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Although a full board is nine members, there are only five and they comprise the executive committee. The board also voted to hold quarterly board meetings in compliance with JFL bylaws.

De Chabert-Schuster said legal counsel then advised them that hospital meetings are subject to open meetings laws according to the V.I. Code, despite the JFL bylaws.

“There is a bit of disconnect between the bylaws and the V.I. Code,” de Chabert-Schuster said, explaining the reverse motion Tuesday night.

During the long meetings in May, the JFL board placed on administrative leave and then terminated its chief executive officer, Ken Okolo, and named JFL legal counsel Rick Evangelista interim CEO.

Those moves came when the hospital was operating without a chief operating officer, a chief nursing officer and a director of human resources. When he was named CEO, Evangelista was serving in the HR director’s spot as well as legal counsel.

On May 25, the 31st Legislature’s Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services called a hearing to get information about the lack of leadership at St. Croix’s only hospital.

During the hearing, it was disclosed that Okolo and the chief financial officer, Tim Lessing, received $25,000 and $15,000 bonuses, respectively, without board approval.

As a result, the JFL board Tuesday approved several personnel measures, including:

–           Bonuses will not be given to any employee on a NOPA or through an employment contract;

–           No employee will begin work or transfer to another assignment without completed and executed employment documents;

–           New hires and wage or salary increases over 3 percent must be approved by the HR committee and the full JFL board.

The board also approved a motion to amend the bylaws to make it easier to appoint a physician board member. Since Dr. Anthony Ricketts left the board more than a year ago, there has not been a physician representative because the bylaws stipulate the member cannot be employed by the hospital. 

Until the V.I. Legislature changes the law, the medical director, Dr. Ramesh Lakhram, suggested appointing a nonvoting or interim member. He said he has searched the “entire Virgin Islands” without luck for a physician willing to become a volunteer board member.

A new board member will also needed from the nursing community since Joyce Heyliger resigned from the board earlier this month, de Chabert-Schuster said, adding that he sent a letter to the state nursing association asking for a recommendation.

In other action, the board also approved initial appointments of one year for Dr. Linda Kirby and Dr. John Yanos and the reappointment of privileges for Dr. Walter Rohloff and Dr. Swati Shah.

Vera Falu, vice chairwoman of the board and chairwoman of the performance improvement committee, made a motion to request that the V.I. Personnel Office conduct a position description questionnaire for the JFL staff. The goal is to determine if employees should be “repositioned to make the organization more efficient” or job descriptions should be rewritten, she said. The motion passed.

“We are not about to do any mass downsizing of people but we need to reposition some things,” de Chabert-Schuster said.

Also attending the meeting were Aracelis de Hendry-Walcott and Theresa Frorup-Ali, as well as Philip Arcidi by phone.

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