During an executive session Wednesday night, the V.I. Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation’s board ratified the COVID mandate for health care workers put in place at the Aug. 6 meeting.
During the long session, they also previewed and approved architectural concept designs for a new Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute and Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, both of which were battered by the 2017 hurricanes.
Board Chairman Christopher Finch, began the open meeting with some statistics about the territory’s history with the virus to stress the need for vaccinations. The pandemic started 18 months ago and the governor imposed restrictions, shutting down the territory in the middle of March. The first Virgin Islander died on April 5. After that, it was 159 days for the toll to reach 19 deaths on Sept. 11, 2020. Nineteen more were struck down after 324 days, on Aug. 1, 2021. Then 19 fatalities occurred in 31 days – the month of August. Finch also pointed out the territory had access to the vaccine on Dec. 16 and since then half of the deaths have occurred.
After the executive session, Finch reported that the vaccination mandate and the dates for being vaccinated are the same as originally decided by the board in August. Current employees must be vaccinated with one shot by Sept. 1 and the second by Oct.1. If there were medical or religious reasons not to be immunized, the employee must have submitted the reason by Aug. 26. The hospital administrators and Finch will review the requests and if applicable, by law, grant an exception. In some cases, the employee might be given a different job or the opportunity to work from home. New employees must have at least one vaccination when they start to work.
Workers have pushed back, filing lawsuits, but those have not yet been decided. The hospitals’ mandate was based on those in use by the University of the Virgin Islands and the V.I. Department of Health, Finch said. Nationally, more health care facilities, as well as private companies, are demanding staff is vaccinated.
“The mandate is to keep the staff safe, to ensure the hospitals are safe. To keep the staff safe and the patients safe. I want the public to know the hospital is a safe place to go to. And that is our goal,” Finch said.
Plans for New Facilities Presented
Daryl Smalls, executive director of the Hospital Redevelopment Team, presented the architectural designs for the St. Thomas cancer center and the St. Croix hospital with a full array of measurements, drawings and graphics.
FEMA has approved the full replacement of the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute but hasn’t specified a total cost. The design shows another patient room, two more examination rooms, five more infusion positions, offices and two meeting spaces condensed into one. The cancer institute will continue to be adjacent to Schneider Regional Medical Center and Smalls said there would be “no structural impact” on the hospital. The timeline for construction is around eight months beginning in April 2022.
Smalls said a generator large enough for the entire hospital will be necessary since any outage “could impact treatment.”
The JFL hospital will be rebuilt from the ground up and Smalls elaborated on each of the eight floors shown in the architects’ designs. The entire facility will fit on the current footprint, connected to the V.I. Cardiac Care Center, with perhaps a little overlap.
The current facility has 250 beds and covers 250,000 square feet. FEMA will replace the hospital based on the current usage and what was in place before the hurricanes. No final cost has been approved by FEMA yet.
Flad Architects, a national planning and design firm, designed a new facility with 116 beds on 400,000 square feet. The company plans include 19 emergency room beds, 24 beds for intensive care patients and six for pediatrics. The design includes 14 imaging suites and dialysis units in some rooms. The surgery will be one floor above the ER to allow safe and easy transport. The final cost, around $245 million, or around $900 a square foot, will have to be worked out with FEMA, Smalls said.
“It will be an excellent facility for the entire community,” he said.
Smalls said all 250 beds have never been utilized at Juan Luis and to build a hospital that size would run a little under $1 billion.
In the open portion of the meeting, the board approved one reappointment for medical staff privileges, several environments of care management plans for Schneider Regional Medical Center, and policies for Luis Hospital. A contract for JFL to engage the National Recovery Agency for debt collection services was also approved.
During the executive session, the board approved one contract for FLAD’s master site plan and another contract amended for FLAD’s survey. A third contract was approved for Lamartech USVI for the technical building. The board also approved the conceptual designs presented by Smalls.
The meeting was attended by Finch, Jerry Smith, Jenifer O’Neal, Justa Encarnacion, Dr. Anne Treasure, Dr. Frank Odlum, Faye John-Baptiste and Marise James.