Gov. John deJongh Jr. announced that he was filling two crucial holes in his cabinet Monday, with the selection of Dr. Mercedes Dullum as Health Commissioner and Henry White Jr. as the head of the V.I. Police Department.
“I have put a great deal of effort into the researching and interviewing process in order to find the best possible candidates to lead us in the coming years,” deJongh said Monday at news conference at Government House on St. Thomas.
“I stand before you today confident that we have found two extraordinarily qualified individuals who will not only effectively manage these very important departments but will also help develop the next generation of leadership within these two agencies so that the Virgin Islands is ready for today and for what tomorrow holds,” he said.
A native of Jamaica, Dullum’s career in health care has spanned more than 30 years. Currently the cardiac surgery director at the Cleveland Clinic, she has also been actively involved in the local industry for the past 13 years and headed up the telemedicine program between Cleveland Clinic and Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John.
In an interview with the Source in 2009, Dullum said the telemedicine link allows for “state of the art” patient care in remote locations like St. John. The link allows doctors at Myrah Keating to consult with Cleveland Clinic’s specialists, allowing for more rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Dullum said Monday that she will also bring her focus on quality patient care to the job and involve both her colleagues in the Health Department and the community at large.
“Quality and excellence of care with patients have been my guiding principles,” she said. Dullum said she plans to make the V.I. Health Department one of the leading government institutions in the U.S., and said that her experience in the field made her “acutely aware” of the importance of leading a “well-functioning team.”
Dullum said she has had the opportunity to visit the local facilities and commended the local practitioners and department employees on continuing to work hard despite limited resources.
Dullum also most recently served as the Cleveland Clinic’s international patient services director and was the managing partner of Washington Regional Cardiac Surgery PC in Washington, D.C., from October 1986 to January 2004.
DeJongh said Monday that Dullum will focus on addressing some of the department’s major challenges and opportunities, including: continuing the overhaul of the V.I. Medicaid system, consistent with the President’s health reform legislation; leveraging the territory’s federal grants to the public health delivery system; ensuring the department’s full implementation of health "I-T" to facilitate coordinated patient care, communication between public and private providers, and enhance billing for DOH services; and continuing work done with Department of Human Services to enable greater service delivery to clients and beneficiaries of local social programs.
Dullum will step in as the department’s acting commissioner on Dec. 1, while the Senate considers her nomination.
Commending Acting Commissioner Raymond L. Hyndman for stepping in after the retirement of former Commissioner Novelle Francis, deJongh said that White’s experience in law enforcement also makes him qualified to take over the V.I. Police Department.
White also comes in with more than 30 years in law enforcement, most recently working as a criminal justice consultant with a number of private clients, including the FBI. White was also a Georgia police chief, an FBI special agent, and a detective, patrol sergeant and state investigator at the East Orange Police Department in East Orange, New Jersey.
On Monday, White talked about growing up in Newark, N.J., during the civil rights era and witnessing the rioting going on in his city. He talked about joining the East Orange Police Department to see if he could do something to help.
“As someone who was born and raised in New Jersey and educated in the N.J. school system, I was appalled at the rioting and the ineffective response by the law enforcement entities,” White said. “I made a personal commitment to make change from within and remain in public service.”
White said he is determined to bring the VIPD to “new heights of efficiency and effectiveness,” which will include dealing with the department’s consent decree, analyzing and responding to top community crime issues, and managing his “manpower and resources” effectively.
White said he is a believer in a team approach, with mentoring, training, coaching and “rewarding for effective results.”
“I am a fast learner, and within a reasonable time, I will be better able to suited to manage the manpower and resource allocations of the department,” he said.
DeJongh said White’s experience, from the street to the FBI, makes him well versed in the issues facing the territory and the VIPD.
“Our police commissioner nominee managed civil rights issues for the FBI, which makes him acutely aware of the issues VIPD currently faces in relation to the consent decree,” deJongh said. “As a former police chief, through experience, he has gained a full understanding of managing budgets, human resources and union matters and has experience with the latest techniques and tactics in policing and law enforcement and the continued professional development of our police force. He is well poised to lead the Department in addressing the problems of gun crime and the associated challenges of interdiction, domestic and gang violence, and the other incidents of crime that confront the department daily.”
White begins as acting commissioner starting Monday, while the Senate considers his nomination for the position. DeJongh said that while he realizes the Senate has to do its job, he asked that senators expedite the process so Dullum and White can begin to lead their departments.