Dr. Kendall Griffith answered questions about his first month as interim chief executive office of the Juan F. Luis Medical Center and his plans for the future at a meeting of the hospital’s board of directors Thursday night.
Griffith, a cardiologist, said he has been splitting his time between the CEO’s office and the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center, where he has served as both administrative director and physician.
“I’m pretty much doing two full-time jobs,” he said.
Griffith indicated that this was not likely to change in the near future. He said he would like to find someone to take over the administrative duties at VICC, but he was not ready to hang up his stethoscope.
“As far as being a physician, I’m still going to be seeing patients and doing procedures,” he said.
Griffith said at this point it was too early to tell whether he would become the permanent CEO. He said both he and the board were feeling out the situation, and even if the board were to offer him the job, he may not take it if it doesn’t prove to be a good fit for him.
During the board meeting, members were greeted with both good and bad news.
Griffith briefed them on the hospital’s “third corrective plan,” which was accepted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems earlier this week. The plan offers a roadmap for how the hospital intends to improve its quality of care, and its acceptance was a critical step towards JFL retaining its ability to be reimbursed through the Medicaid and Medicare programs.
The hospital had a negative cash flow for the third month in a row, however, underscoring the deeper problems facing the institution. Even with Medicaid and Medicare funding, the hospital has struggled to break even over the past several years and has accrued over $20 million in debt, prompting some medical supply companies to demand payment up front before providing drugs and equipment.
Before the recent three-month slide, the hospital had seen positive earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization for the previous eight months.
After the meeting, Griffith said that he wished he had the power to change the hospital’s financial situation in the month he’s been CEO, but that the reality is that it will take time to bring the hospital out of debt.
He did not offer a concrete plan for how he would bring about higher revenues, but said he believed there was potential for growth in outpatient surgical services.
“That’s where the revenue can really be generated,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to be changing our paradigm.”
Griffith distanced himself from some of his predecessors’ policies.
He said he was not happy with former CEO Jeff Nelson’s firing of the hospitals certified nurse assistants and licensed practical nurses, but that JFL’s current financial situation made it difficult to undo.
Griffith said he wished to rehire all the nurses who were let go, but ultimately he would need the board’s permission to do so.
“From a clinical perspective, there is a need to give the nurses some support,” he said. “From a financial perspective, it’s very difficult.”
Griffith also rejected the idea of bringing in a management firm to take over the operation of the hospital, an option often cited by Nelson as a way to turn around the institution’s finances.
Griffith pointed to the acceptance of the plan of correction as proof that the current administration was qualified to run the hospital.
“I think that the local staff can definitely lead the organization,” he said. “I intend, as their leader, to help to organize them and motivate them in that direction. They’re very strong and very capable.”
In other business, the board handled a slew of routine personnel matters.
They voted to approve a contract for Dr. Gemaine Owens, who will split her time between the hospital’s department of medicine and the Charles Harwood Medical Center. They also approved a contract for Dr. Venne Williams, a physical therapist who will transition from a clinical to a primarily administrative role as vice-president of ancillary services.
The board also received a report that the hospital’s new women’s health center should open on time on April 1. The center will offer mammography and bone density testing to screen for breast cancer and osteoporosis.