March 21, 2006 – The St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corporation is battling financial problems with limited resources and staff and having trouble completing its transition from the Department of Health into a private, nonprofit entity, testifiers at a Finance Committee meeting said Tuesday.
Anneta Adams Heyliger, East End's chief financial officer and interim chief executive officer, explained that a $3.3 million supplemental budget appropriation from the V.I. government is needed to hire new health care providers and staff, pay outstanding obligations and help with operations until the center receives additional federal funding.
She further added that a recent budget cut of more than $400,000 by the Legislature has contributed to the center's tight financial situation.
She also explained that one of the two federal grants used to fund the facility is still in the renewal process and will not be approved until at least next month. Heyliger said the absence of these funds would affect employees' salaries, since the facility is still in the process of transitioning from the local Health Department and has no other way to subsidize the costs.
Prior to the transition, the Health Department had been operating the center and the Fredericksted Health Clinic on St. Croix.
"This situation has created much anxiety and suspense as this money accounts for 36 percent of our overall funding and pays for 13 out of the 24 positions at the health center," Heyliger said, adding that the center has cut many of its services and reduced the space of its facility at the Tutu Park Mall on St. Thomas in order to conserve its resources.
Lack of funding has also prompted many of the center's employees to quit, Heyliger said, adding that some staff members would rather not wait to see whether the federal government approves the grant. When asked, Heyliger said she recently received letters of resignation from two employees who did not state why they wanted to leave the facility.
However, since Heyliger told senators the center has been keeping up with semi-monthly payroll checks, Sen. Louis P. Hill said, "Then you must have some internal problems, and you should work to investigate what those are and how to fix them."
Lloyd Williams, chair of the center's board of directors, said that a possible misuse of funding might also have played a part in the facility's financial woes. He said the center's former executive director Maureen Rabsatt-Cullar, who was fired last February, had used federal funding "for purposes for which it was not intended." While Williams added that he did not want to imply that Rabsatt-Cullar "stole the money," he did tell senators that an audit on the center's finances was "a critical need" and would show exactly how, and on what, federal funds were spent.
Williams also provided senators with a detailed breakdown of the center's $3.3 million supplemental budget request, which includes $1.5 million owed to the Health Department for payroll reimbursement and $771,700 to Schneider Regional Medical Center for laboratory fees.
Heyliger said until recently, there was no documentation on file at the center indicating such a debt to Schneider Regional and that she is currently in the process of researching the matter.
Since Hill told East End representatives that the committee would only consider funding about $1.1 million of the supplemental budget request, Heyliger then explained that the Health Department continued to pay the center's employees during the transition period of May 2000 to August 15, 2005, and requested that the additional $1.5 million dollar appropriation should also be included in any funding approved by the Legislature.
On the topic of the transition of the center from the Health Department, Heyliger told senators that longstanding issues such as program income, the status of East End employees and the transition of various Notices of Personnel Action (NOPAs) are still unresolved.
Vivian Ebbesen-Flood, executive director of the Fredericksted Health Clinic on St. Croix (which was also turned into a private nonprofit entity), expounded on Heyliger's statements by explaining that many employees within the two centers are still receiving checks from the Health Department and do not know whether they are working for the centers or for the government.
She added that many employee NOPAs still have not transitioned, even though the employee transfer process – permanently shifting Health Department employees to the two centers – was completed in 2004.
Attorney Elmo Williams, legal counsel for the government, said the new NOPAs had been prepared but could not be issued until an audit could be completed for both centers. While the Fredericksted Health Clinic is farther along in the process, Heyliger said the East End Center and the government still have to agree on certain financial figures before an audit can be conducted.
"But come hell or high water, the transfer will be completed by April 1," Williams said, adding that the process has already taken six years.
Hill said he hoped that the center's supplemental budget request would be resolved by the Legislature at the next Finance Committee meeting.
In other news, senators unanimously voted to hold a lease agreement between the government and V.I. Recycling Co. for further consideration. The lease agreement, which was also held in the last Finance Committee meeting, raised concerns for senators who said that one of the lessees, Jimez Ashby, currently owes the government money for the operation of the Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas (See "Finance Committee Holds Up Lease for V.I. Recycling Co.").
Senators were further concerned after receiving a letter from Housing, Parks, and Recreation Commissioner Ira M. Hobson stating that he had waived the debt in exchange for services that will be provided to the department by A-9 Trucking – a company in which Ashby and his father are principals.
Senators voted to subpoena Hobson to testify on the matter at the next meeting.
Present at Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, and Usie Richards.
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