The Territorial Hospital Board authorized spending to buy an oxygen generating machine for Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, on Friday. The moderately-priced move will mostly be paid with federal funding.
“The hospital has been purchasing oxygen off island and both hospitals experienced after the  hurricanes a thread of a shortage,” board member Chris Finch said after the decision was made in executive session Friday afternoon. The meeting was held by telephone conference call, to comply with social distancing requirements during the ongoing pandemic.
“As oxygen is critical to the care and treatment of COVID-19, nobody wanted to take a chance” that there might be a shortage, Finch said, especially at a time when the rest of the country is also concerned about oxygen supplies.
The machine will enable the St. Thomas hospital to pipe oxygen to rooms.
The board authorized a contract for $245,900, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency should pick up 75 percent of the cost. They will have to meet again to approve a structure to house the machine, Finch said. They anticipate a 30 to 35-day timeline to get the machine, so the vote was very time sensitive, he said.
Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital is expecting a bulk shipment of oxygen and may get an oxygen machine donated, JFL acting Chief Executive Officer Dyma Williams said in a phone interview on April 15.
The board also approved spending $314,500 to build out the second floor of Schneider Hospital for the Health Department. The Health Department will move from the fifth floor to the second floor, and this will allow Schneider to expand bed capacity on the fifth floor. This too should get 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA, according to Finch.
Dr. Luis Amaro, Schneider’s acting CEO, said the hospital has expanded bed capacity by more than 50 percent, with ventilation to produce negative air pressure on the southwest and northwest wings of the fourth floor. Negative air pressure means the ventilation pulls air into that area, so that viruses or bacterial infections cannot be carried out by air flow.
Williams said JFL is looking at rooms on the second and third floor of the hospital; at the Virgin Islands National Guard’s complex in Estate Bethlehem and at an unnamed Frederiksted hotel, for patient overflow.
Williams and Amaro both said they probably have enough supplies. But both also said they need more staffing to handle a large surge, and they are trying to hire staff from multiple areas.