Senate Changing Rules for Hospital Board Membership

The territory’s hospital governing board will be able to have members who work at the hospitals, if legislation approved in the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee on Friday becomes law.

Sen. Kurt Vialet, sponsor of the measure, said the governing board for the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital went an extended period without a quorum, and while the nine-member board has a bare quorum of five members now, it has not had a nurse or physician representative on the board for 13 months.

"Way back," Vialet said, active doctors and nurses who worked on staff were allowed to serve, but at some point the law was changed out of concern for a conflict of interest. Vialet said language would be put in the code to require members to recuse themselves if they had a conflict of interest. Ensuring the board had a quorum was crucial, he said.

The hospital lost certification for a period in 2014 (See Related Links below), and Vialet said, "One of the deficiencies cited by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) was we needed to have a functioning board."

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Several physicians and nurses testified in support of the change, while suggesting the bill be changed to simply allow hospital employees to serve. The bill originally would have allowed the Association of Hospital Employed Physicians to choose two members of the JFL board.

Senators amended it to simply remove the restriction on hospital employees serving and applied it to both hospitals.

Hospital board member Troy de Chabert Schuster said it has been difficult to find physicians and nurses who are not employed directly or indirectly by the hospital to serve. Currently there are only five board members and one member’s term expires in January 2017, at which point the board will no longer have a quorum, he said.

De Chabert Schuster said, "CMS will deem the JFL hospital no longer in compliance with its governance qualifications" and the hospital will lose certification, with private insurers dropping out soon after.

The committee also approved a measure to have the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency issue a "silver alert," notifying police, first responders and the public when an adult suffering from dementia is reported missing.

Voting to send both measures on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for more consideration were Vialet, Sens. Marvin Blyden, Jean Forde, Novelle Francis and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly. Sens. Justin Harrigan and Almando "Rocky" Liburd were absent.

The committee held for amendment bills:

–           to require private companies with more than 10 employees that handle hazardous material to provide health insurance;

–           to require physicians to disclose clinical laboratories in which they have a financial interest and prohibit them from referring patients to those labs;

–           and changing guardianship rules for the incapacitated, prohibiting guardians from restricting personal contacts or communications.

Vialet said the guardianship provisions would be amended and offered during the next session of the Legislature.

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