Opening of the temporary St. Croix hospital unit, known as Juan F. Luis North, has been delayed and it now may not open before April 2022, hospital officials told a panel of V.I. senators Friday.
The Senate Committee on Health, Hospital, and Human Service requested the officials from the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital to explain the series of delays associated with the unit that is supposed to serve as a provisional facility that would allow for patient care while the main facility is restored after battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
Interim Chief Executive Officer Dyma Williams told the lawmakers that when the hospital requested an assessment to certify the connection of utility, sewer, and medical gas lines from the main hospital to the temporary one – the certifier would not certify the connection.
“The certifier would have to share with you why they felt in their professional opinion they didn’t want to add additional load of JFL North to the system,” Williams said.
Sen. Marvin Blyden pressed her on why the connections could not be certified but Williams said, “Other than not wanting to add additional load to the system, there was no other reason given.”
Because the connections could not be certified, Williams said the hospital had to pivot from the original phase one of the plan and instead focus its efforts on the build-out of the mechanical building.
“We hear the disappointment and frustration of our community, as we have had to announce delay after delay of critical health care infrastructure,” Williams said. “We, too, have been frustrated and disappointed as we continue to make every effort to expedite the completion of JFL North for our JFL family as well as our community, who deserve no less than exceptional health care.”
Senators were also frustrated with the delays and particularly frustrated to hear that the hospital has no engineer on staff to assist with the large-scale project. Williams said Witt O’Brien’s, a crisis and emergency management firm, does have engineers that have consulted on the project.
But Sen. Janelle Sarauw said she cannot fathom how the hospital’s interim CEO is managing the construction of the modular hospital.
“We are setting you up for disaster and for failure, and we have no engineers … the technical expertise needed to move JFL North is absent.”
Sen. Samuel Carrion said he was concerned as to why the hospital has outsourced instead of hiring local engineers.
“Comparing to Schneider Medical Regional Center, they have been able to internally do most of the repairs and have engineers hired on staff.”
Williams said the type of engineer required is “niche specific,” adding, “There is not an engineer in the territory that is healthcare experienced.”
Ultimately, Williams said, the hospital will need to work out a solution, “because at the end of the day if this hospital is not CMS certifiable – we’re dead in the water.” (CMS is the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that certified whether a medical facility can participate in the federal health programs. The hospital must be certified to be compensated for Medicare and Medicaid services it provides.)
Hesitantly, Williams gave committee members a tentative date that the public might see JFL North open – April 2022.
Sens. Blyden, Carrion, Novelle Francis Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Kurt Vialet, and Janelle Sarauw were present for the hearing. Sen. Kenneth Gittens was excused.