Due to the hospital’s ongoing financial crisis, the Juan F. Luis Medical Center is ill prepared for the hurricane season. At a meeting of the St. Croix district governing board Friday, staff members warned that they were struggling to accumulate adequate stockpiles of medication and supplies to respond to a disaster.
Xaulanda Simmonds-Emmanuel, vice president of marketing and materials management, said the problem stemmed from the hospital’s inability to pay its bills, adding that five of the JFL’s top 10 vendors had placed the hospital on credit hold.
“They have floated the hospital for such a long period of time that they are extremely hesitant to offer any more supplies or services unless certain outstanding dues are paid,” she said.
After the meeting, Emmanuel explained that traditionally the hospital builds a stockpile of supplies at the beginning of hurricane season to ensure they can respond to a storm and survive any disruption in shipments that may occur following a disaster. She said a three-month supply was ideal.
Emmanuel said she was compiling a list of critical need supplies so the hospital could focus on procuring the most essential items with the funds available.
The news is the latest in a string of dire announcements about the hospital’s finances.
Despite months of lobbying by the board and executive staff, Gov. John deJongh Jr. proposed a 6 percent cut in JFL’s appropriation in the 2014 budget.
Board Chairwoman Kye Walker said the board had no formal response to the governor’s proposal at this time; however, she announced that they would form a steering committee to produce a report by July 12 on how to further contract the hospital.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean additional layoffs, but what it will mean is the potential for the reduction of services,” she said. “Because as everyone knows, the hospital can’t meet its monthly obligations and more and more suppliers and creditors are placing us on hold.”
Walker said she wanted a report completed before the hospital is called to the Senate’s budget committee.
Walker did not give details on what services may be affected by a reduction but she said efforts were being made to push forward JFL’s long delayed plan to outsource its hemodialysis unit.
During the financial report Deepak Bansal, chief financial officer, reported that the hospital had its first month of positive cash flow this year, but the figure was something of an illusion.
“I don’t want to take any credit that we don’t deserve. That was wholly due to the fact that we got the appropriation from the central government a few days early,” he said.
At the end of May, JFL received its June appropriation early to allow the hospital to make payroll. For accounting purposes, that money was considered income for the month of May. Bansal warned that this will make the financial report for June look that much worse.
Bansal also said that the hospital’s amnesty program was not going as well as he had hoped. JFL has been offering up to 50 percent discounts on outstanding medical bills paid during the month of June.
Bansal had set an ambitious goal of collecting $500,000 through the program, but he said, at the current rate, they will be lucky to see half of that by the end of the month.
He said they will extend the program through July and attempt to market it better, though he admitted some people on St. Croix may just not have the money to pay this summer.
“It’s probably due to the state of the economy but we’re going try, from our part, a little more aggressively,” he said.
One positive development is that the hospital’s plan to eliminate higher-paid travel nursing positions was progressing, though the recruitment of permanent registered nurses was lagging behind somewhat, he said.
Bansal said that by the end of the summer, the hospital should be down to “two or three” travel nurses throughout the hospital, down from 41 in January.
He said this will have a sizeable affect on the hospital’s monthly expenditures and he hoped to see positive signs of the move starting in July’s financial report.
Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kendall Griffith also focused on the positive in his report to the board. He announced that the hospital’s scores on patient satisfaction surveys were improving.
Griffith said that despite all the challenges, which he admitted were mostly fiscal, “we are still able to provide quality care to the people of St. Croix. We will continue to improve process by process, brick by brick,” he said.