Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital leaders said Tuesday that HOVENSA’s closure will wreak havoc on their health care system’s bottom line, but that hope for the whole community lies in making St. Croix a hot spot for tourists seeking Caribbean beaches along with quality medical care.
“I know medical tourism,” Chief Executive Officer Jeff Nelson told members of the V.I. Senate Health and Hospitals Committee. “I grew up under the shadow of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota – the Mecca of medical tourism for the world, despite being located only near cornfields and bean fields. We have more beauty to offer on St. Croix.”
Nelson said nearly $56 million in health care revenues leave the territory every year when residents turn to hospitals on Puerto Rico or the mainland for care. Transforming JFL into a health-care destination, he said, would spur hundreds of local jobs.
The conversation came a day after Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s bleak State of the Territory address and in the face of JFL’s many ongoing financial challenges. Chief among them, Nelson said, is the imminent closure of HOVENSA, which will result in an influx of uninsured patients, from whom it is much more difficult to collect payment. Nelson said he expects the refinery’s closure will also result in between 300 and 600 fewer patient admissions each year, with an estimated annual impact of more than $3.5 million.
At the same time, the central government has cut its appropriations to JFL for fiscal year 2012. Nelson said that last Friday he received notice that the hospital’s allocation would be reduced by an additional $667,403, and that he expects the hospital’s total appropriations for FY 2012 will be nearly $6 million less than the year before. Nelson said JFL faces other challenges, such as the increased costs associated with meeting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services standards, and the high cost of paying traveling health care professionals to do jobs the local workforce is not trained to do.
But not all of Nelson’s news was negative. Beyond the promise held by marketing St. Croix as a medical-tourism destination, JFL’s first quarter of this fiscal year showed a net income of nearly $46.3 million. Nelson said that number would have been a negative had the V.I. Senate not decided in December to forgive the hospital $52,146,004 in government debt.
“While we are grateful and humble for the debt relief, we acknowledge the concern the relief may cause the government as a whole,” Nelson said. “However, in order for JFL to achieve its audacious goal, the hospital needs to display a solid performing income statement and balance sheet.”
“Audacious goal” has become a favorite phrase of Nelson, who uses it to describe the organization’s mission of becoming the “most trusted, patient-family-centered health system in the Caribbean by 2020.”
Nelson unleashed to the senators on Tuesday a new catch phrase: “Vibrant Health,” which he said should be the name for JFL’s “own medical city.”
Nelson said that building, creating and promoting Vibrant Health will have a ripple effect on job creation for St. Croix, which stands to lose more than 2,000 jobs in the wake of the refinery’s shutdown. Medical tourism could create high-paying construction jobs, as well as produce new hospitality jobs for people in the hotel, restaurant, and retail industries.
Nelson added that St. Croix and the hospital’s economic situation demand innovation.
“The alternative to successfully achieving the medical tourism objective,” Nelson said, “is to shrink JFL to a very basic level and reduce local jobs.”