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HomeNewsArchivesFrustrated Workers Look for Help in Solving Clinic Problems

Frustrated Workers Look for Help in Solving Clinic Problems

Feb. 27, 2009 — Frederiksted Health Care has been closed for more than a year, and employees are turning to the Senate for help in settling concerns about the clinic's working conditions and questions about their employee status.
Senate President Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg Jr. has promised employees that he would try to arrange a hearing to look into the issues. The senator's comments came Friday during a morning gathering across the street from the entrance to the shuttered Ingebord Nesbitt Clinic on the Strand in Frederiksted, where employees met to voice their frustration over the conditions.
The clinic in Frederiksted has been closed since January 2008, when it was deemed to be an unhealthy workplace. Services normally provided at the facility on the west side of St. Croix were temporarily transferred to the mid-island Grigg Home site, but that "temporary" designation has now dragged on for more than a year and, while deadlines have come and gone, the clinic now looks like it won't re-open before the fall.
A press release issued earlier this week by Frederiksted Health Care (FHC) estimated that the remediation work would require eight more months, putting the re-opening back until at least October.
But the physical condition of the clinic, which is reportedly infested with mold, dust and other contaminants, is only part of the employees' problems.
The clinic was part of the Department of Health until the Senate passed Act 6645 in 2004, which eventually transferred the health care services on the west end of the island to Frederiksted Health Care Inc., a private, non-profit corporation. Since then, they have been told they are no longer government employees and their union, which continues to collect dues, does not have a contract with FHC.
Questions about their status, accrued leave, vacation, retirement and other benefits have continued to fester during the transition from a government facility to a private, non-profit. The tension boiled over Friday as angry employees blamed FHC management for denying them benefits they are entitled to as government employees. According to them, Act 6645 specified that they are government employees on loan to the corporation.
"Nothing they're doing is legal," one employee said.
They also said management has ignored repeated requests to discuss their complaints, other than to issue a letter about "media interactions about FHC Inc.," which employees have interpreted as a warning to keep quiet.
Donastorg said Friday that the government's decision to switch the clinic from public to private control denied the employees their rights.
"I said it was going to be a problem at the time," he said. "The government has a responsibility to the employees."
Donastorg said he cannot call a hearing on the issue since he is not a member of the Senate's Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services. But he did promise the employees that he would contact committee chairman Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve and press him to examine the issue.
Massare Webster, FHC chief executive officer, said Friday that the main problem is that the employees don't want to be private employees.
"They're not government employees. They are private employees of the non-profit corporation," she said. "The employees have not been happy about that … They know what they are; they don't want to be."
Webster said their old benefits, including contributions to GERS and government insurance, still exist, but details have been difficult to work out during the transition.
In hindsight, she added, it might have been easier to make the transition from a government to a private clinic if the corporation had started with all new employees and let the government employees remain with the Department of Health in other capacities.
"In terms of the root of the problem that I hear constantly from the employees, they don't want to be private employees … They were transferred against their will," Webster said.
She added that the employees are still members of a union that has a contract with the government, but not with the clinic. She said she expects to sit down with the union at some point in the future to negotiate its status in regards to the private, non-profit corporation.
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Feb. 27, 2009 -- Frederiksted Health Care has been closed for more than a year, and employees are turning to the Senate for help in settling concerns about the clinic's working conditions and questions about their employee status.
Senate President Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg Jr. has promised employees that he would try to arrange a hearing to look into the issues. The senator's comments came Friday during a morning gathering across the street from the entrance to the shuttered Ingebord Nesbitt Clinic on the Strand in Frederiksted, where employees met to voice their frustration over the conditions.
The clinic in Frederiksted has been closed since January 2008, when it was deemed to be an unhealthy workplace. Services normally provided at the facility on the west side of St. Croix were temporarily transferred to the mid-island Grigg Home site, but that "temporary" designation has now dragged on for more than a year and, while deadlines have come and gone, the clinic now looks like it won't re-open before the fall.
A press release issued earlier this week by Frederiksted Health Care (FHC) estimated that the remediation work would require eight more months, putting the re-opening back until at least October.
But the physical condition of the clinic, which is reportedly infested with mold, dust and other contaminants, is only part of the employees' problems.
The clinic was part of the Department of Health until the Senate passed Act 6645 in 2004, which eventually transferred the health care services on the west end of the island to Frederiksted Health Care Inc., a private, non-profit corporation. Since then, they have been told they are no longer government employees and their union, which continues to collect dues, does not have a contract with FHC.
Questions about their status, accrued leave, vacation, retirement and other benefits have continued to fester during the transition from a government facility to a private, non-profit. The tension boiled over Friday as angry employees blamed FHC management for denying them benefits they are entitled to as government employees. According to them, Act 6645 specified that they are government employees on loan to the corporation.
"Nothing they're doing is legal," one employee said.
They also said management has ignored repeated requests to discuss their complaints, other than to issue a letter about "media interactions about FHC Inc.," which employees have interpreted as a warning to keep quiet.
Donastorg said Friday that the government's decision to switch the clinic from public to private control denied the employees their rights.
"I said it was going to be a problem at the time," he said. "The government has a responsibility to the employees."
Donastorg said he cannot call a hearing on the issue since he is not a member of the Senate's Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services. But he did promise the employees that he would contact committee chairman Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve and press him to examine the issue.
Massare Webster, FHC chief executive officer, said Friday that the main problem is that the employees don't want to be private employees.
"They're not government employees. They are private employees of the non-profit corporation," she said. "The employees have not been happy about that … They know what they are; they don't want to be."
Webster said their old benefits, including contributions to GERS and government insurance, still exist, but details have been difficult to work out during the transition.
In hindsight, she added, it might have been easier to make the transition from a government to a private clinic if the corporation had started with all new employees and let the government employees remain with the Department of Health in other capacities.
"In terms of the root of the problem that I hear constantly from the employees, they don't want to be private employees … They were transferred against their will," Webster said.
She added that the employees are still members of a union that has a contract with the government, but not with the clinic. She said she expects to sit down with the union at some point in the future to negotiate its status in regards to the private, non-profit corporation.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.