For Senate President Ronald Russell, Wednesday’s reopening of the Frederiksted’s Ingeborg Nesbitt Clinic was about more than returning health care to the west-side city. It was a chance to reconnect with traditional values.
"I was born here," Russell said during the two-hour ceremony that concluded with a ribbon-cutting to officially mark the reopening of the building.
The people who worked at the clinic when he was a boy, stitching up his cut knee, were "caring, enthusiastic, with a love of health care."
"I can remember coming down Strand Street and seeing the clinic and wanting to be a nurse or a doctor because they represented the highest level of public service, human service, and dedication," he said.
Russell was just one of a host of officials who spoke during the ceremony that drew more than a hundred people to the closed off section of the Strand.
The clinic was closed in April 2008 for mold remediation. At the time, the staff of Frederiksted Health Care Inc., which runs the clinic, believed it would be about a four to five month job. As the scope of the problems became more apparent, the cost of the project grew, and the reopening seemed more and more unlikely.
All that was erased Wednesday, when with a snip of scissors, Gov. John deJongh Jr. and FHC board chairwoman Lena Schulterbrandt officially opened the clinic and the crowd poured in to get their first look at the renovated facility.
Another onlooker with personal memories of the clinic was Betty Wilson, who pointed to the older section of the facility and told about her father who was born there, Oliver "O.C." Wilson. In 1917, 10 years after his birth, Wilson was back in the facility having his appendix out, she said, but the staff carried him to the window, so he could look out and see the ceremony marking the transfer of the island from Denmark to the United States.
Dr. Jamila Benn, the chief medical officer of FHC Inc., called the refurbished clinic "a shining star on Strand Street," and Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve, who as chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Health and Hospitals, called it "truly a great day."
Gov. deJongh took advantage of the moment to poke a little good-natured fun at Russell, pointing out that he had longed to become a nurse or a doctor, "but he settled for being a lawyer."
While I was not born here, believe me I gave birth to here," the governor said referring to community activists George Flores, Al Franklin, and Robert Merwin as the "midhusbands," and crediting FHC chairwoman Schulterbrandt with keeping up the pressure.
"Each and every day the question that they asked was ‘We don’t care how much, we just want to know when.’" deJongh said. "The history of this place is too important to us not to have it open, that health care in the Virgin Islands has to go beyond a certain level of where it was before, and the Ingeborg Nesbit Clinic has to be a part of that history and that future."
The governor said the opening of the clinic was part of "an economic transformation" as the territory begins implementing President Obama’s "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," known more commonly as the health care reform.
"I believe all the bumps we may have gone through, that is all in the past. We need to no longer look at 2011, we need to look to 2012 and beyond … The Virgin Islands in the next nine years will realize more than $400 million in health care funds that we can take care of people that need taking care of," deJongh said.
Along with the speeches, the event included prayers provided by a trio of local clergy – the Rev. Patrick Lynch of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the Rev. Eulencine Christopher of Friedensberg Moravian Church, and the Rev. Kathryn Love of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church – songs performed by Shelton Schulterbrandt and Stephanie Jagrup, dancing by the Alfredo Andrews Elementary School Quadrille Dancers, and music by Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Knights.
The festivities wrapped up shortly after noon: the schedule said the clinic would start seeing patients at 1 p.m.