Aug. 24, 2005 – "We heard what we wanted to hear on St. Croix tonight," said Sen. Neville James Wednesday night.
Health Commissioner Darlene Carty had just informed the Health and Hospital Committee that the milk certification laboratory would be located on St. Croix.
When she made the announcement, in a break of decorum for the Legislative House in Frederiksted, one audience member clapped.
However, Rodney Miller, CEO of Schneider Regional Medical Center, was not overwhelmed with happiness by the news. He said the St. Thomas hospital had "opened its arms to welcome the lab, and staff worked beyond the call of duty to make it happen."
However, he did admit that there were problems setting the lab up on St. Thomas.
Gwenevere Creque-Rojas, director of the laboratory department of Schneider, went through a month-by-month chronology of missed communications, equipment shipped to the wrong island, and when it finally made it to St. Thomas, being left on the dock. The story almost became comical, as hard-to-order chemicals became useless in the time it took them to get through the process.
Miller said, "We supported the idea from day one of the lab being located on St. Croix. We fully support it now." However, he asked that Schneider be reimbursed for the expenses it incurred in training an employee to run the lab and also for the cost of setting it up on St. Thomas.
Miller was not the only one disappointed in the process that led to Carty's decision, reportedly made Tuesday, to place the lab on St. Croix.
Sen. Celestino White Sr. said the lab, which had originally been shipped to St. Croix before going to St. Thomas, might be eligible for frequent flyer miles when it comes back to St. Croix.
White said he was not of the philosophy that just because something ends well, everything is fine. He said, "There is something called waste."
Sen. Usie Richards, chairman of the committee, was also upset with the process. He said, "Every day I hear news about the milk certification lab, and every day it gets worse."
He said, when he met with Carty earlier in the year, she said the lab would be up and running in 60 days. Carty said Wednesday that it would take a year to bring the lab back over to St. Croix and have trained personnel operate it.
He said, "We are not talking about one million, we are talking about many millions of dollars being lost by an entrepreneur." Local milk producers have said that since they have lost the ability to certify their milk, they are unable to service cruise lines. (See "Community Group Wants Milk Lab on St. Croix".)
Richards said, "This is what breeds disgust for the government." Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion said it was his concern that, "No matter what happened before, we do the right thing now."
Carty said she was in negotiations with officials in Puerto Rico to do the milk testing until the lab is set up on St. Croix. She said that testing could begin at the end of September.
The lab is to be located in the Charles Harwood Complex in Estate Richmond.
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