June 28, 2008 — Mold remediation at the Frederiksted Health Center, closed since late April, sits on hold due to a shortage of funds, center officials told the Health Hospitals and Human Services Committee Friday as they asked for help.
Environmental Concepts, or EnCon, was contracted to do the cleanup portion of the work. "EnCon is owed for phase one," said Gloria Gordon, chairwoman of the center's governing board at the hearing in Frederiksted. "A portion is done. However they have left the job because they have not seen a down payment. Nobody is working there so I don't know when they will come back."
This is bad news for clients and staff of the clinic, which has temporarily relocated its services to offices in the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged.
Reading from a statement from the clinic's director, Masserae Sprauve-Webster, Gordon said the price for the mold remediation portion of the work was $122,575, but the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had provided $95,000, leaving a $27,575 shortfall.
There is a surplus of $36,000 from funds the V.I. Public Finance Authority has authorized for new industrial air-conditioning units, ductwork and insulation which could be applied to the mold remediation, but those funds have not been released yet, Gordon said. Health Commissioner Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd said that money would also have to be formally re-allocated by the PFA before it could be spent on the cleanup. Meanwhile, the cleanup is on hold.
Once those tasks are done, to keep the facility mold-free in the future will require major plumbing work, electrical, sprinkler and roof repairs, for which the clinic is asking the Legislature for $200,000.
Meanwhile, over at the clinic's temporary lodgings at Herbert Grigg Home, patients and staff are complaining the location is inconvenient and some rooms are oppressively hot, but nearly all the clinic's services are up and running.
Several employees testified they were chronically sick and unable to work for extended periods of time because of exposure to the mold, and others complained the clinic's management had been too lax in addressing the mold problem. Toxic mold has been linked in studies to short term respiratory irritation, asthma attacks, allergic reactions, and in some cases, systemic mold infections.
In the wake of a brazen armed invasion of Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and murder of a patient, Luis Hospital CEO Gregory Calliste briefed the committee on enhanced security measures and said the hospital needed hundreds of thousands in new funds to pay for what must be done.
For a guard booth, metal detectors, key-card door locks, better cameras, panic buttons, two security vehicles and other more or less one-time expenses, Calliste said the hospital needs $205,000. For ongoing security personnel costs, he said roughly $550,000 a year would be needed. Much of this would go to upgrading the security staff and supplementing it with off-duty police officers.
Sen. James Weber III and the committee chairman; Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, asked Calliste to work up a revised proposal and submit it to the committee.
In other business, a bill sponsored by Sen. Alvin Williams intended to protect victims of domestic violence from losing their jobs when an abuser creates trouble at their workplace was held in committee to allow officials from Human Services and the Department of Justice to review proposed amendments.
For much of the hearing, only Jn Baptiste was present. Weber and Sen. Neville James were there for portions of the hearing and non-committee member Williams was present for the discussion of his bill.
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