Christensen Name May Replace Harwood at Medical Facility

Former Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen testified concerning another Virgin Islander being honored Wednesday. (Photo from Senate Livestream)

When the $300 million replacement of the Charles Harwood Memorial Complex on St. Croix is finished, it will have a new name if the enthusiasm exhibited Wednesday at the Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection carries through.

Half a dozen testifiers supported a bill that would rename the building Donna Marie Christian-Christensen and not a word of opposition was spoken by the senators present.

Charles Harwood was built in the early 50s. It was the main St. Croix hospital until 1982, when Juan F. Luis Hospital was built. Construction of the new building was started in the spring and is expected to be completed in 2026.

The bill, which commends former Delegate to Congress Christiansen “for her tireless contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands in the medical field and representation in the United States Congress,” is sponsored by Sens. Novelle Francis Jr., Angel Bolques Jr., Franklin Johnson, and co-sponsored by Sen. Carla Joseph, who chaired the committee hearing. The bill was voted on favorably and will go to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion testified, “Dr. Christensen dedicated her life to engaging with the people here in our beautiful Virgin Islands and abroad, and with each encounter she made an impression.”

Encarnacion also spoke about a program Christensen implemented that nurtured high school students aspiring to pursue medical or healthcare careers. She said the program provided invaluable opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience by rotating through different Health Department clinics.

She concluded, “There is no one more deserving of having this state-of-the-art facility named in honor.”

Resident Monique Clendenin, who worked with Christensen, emphasized Christensen’s early career as a doctor. She testified, “One of my family duties as a young adult was to take my grandmother to her monthly health visits with Dr. Green, as she was then known. Her Richmond offices, a block away from where the facility proposed to be named in her honor will stand, were often filled with senior citizens, young people, and others who were uninsured or underinsured, and save for a visit to the emergency room, would have few other ways to access health care. I can attest that at that time, my grandmother and many others were charged no more than $10 or $20 for their visit.

She added, “On those same visits, I remember meeting a few friends from St. Thomas and St. John in her waiting room. Why you may ask was this so? It was the early 80s, at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when fear ruled the day, and many physicians did not treat HIV/AIDS patients. So, my friends from St. Thomas and St. John had traveled to St. Croix for care to see Dr. Green, one of the few physicians that would treat them in the territory.”

Renee McAlpin-Petersen, St. Croix District Chair for the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, talked about Christensen’s political career. In 1996, Christensen became the first female physician in Congress.

McAlpin-Petersen testified that Christensen, who served 19 years in Congress, championed legislation benefiting the territories.

Pediatrician Dr. Mavis L. Matthew called Christensen “a trailblazer.” She added, “The renaming of the Charles Harwood Complex to the Donna Christian-Christiansen Department of Public Health is a pioneering step to register the proper recognition of her unselfish and dedicated service.”

When the period came for senators to question the testifiers, there were few questions. Instead, the senators also praised her and pledged support for the resolution.

Testifier Jimmy O’Bryan mentioned in his testimony that he believed Christensen also deserved the V.I. Medal of Honor. Former Sen. Shawn Malone also mentioned the medal in his written testimony.

Joseph said she planned to introduce an amendment that would include a Medal of Honor for Christensen.

Charles Harwood was governor of the territory from 1941 to 1946. His term was controversial as it was alleged that he received the appointment from President Franklin D. Roosevelt after forgiving a $25,000 loan to the president’s son Elliot.

Sens. Samuel Carriόn, Francis, Alma Francis Heyliger, Kenneth Gittens, Joseph, Milton Potter, and Franklin Johnson attended Wednesday’s hearing.