Department of Health Layoffs Reach St. John; Morris deCastro Clinic Loses Two Nurses and Security Guard

While not in danger of closing, according to DOH officials, Morris F. deCastro Clinic, above, has lost three employees recently.

Government agencies across the territory have been feeling the pinch from a projected multi-million-dollar budget shortfall and recently the Department of Health proved it was not immune.

Implementing “austerity measures,” DOH officials released one Morris F. deCastro Clinic employee last week and accepted the resignation of a second employee at the Cruz Bay clinic.

“A Nurse’s Assistant with Women’s Health Services was laid off,” said DOH spokesperson Eunice Bedminster. “Also the Community Health Nurse retired and a security guard was transferred to St. Thomas. What we have been doing is streamlining our services as part of our austerity measures that all government agencies have had to do in the face of this economic crisis.”

Citing collective bargaining issues, Bedminster declined to name the employees who were affected last week. With fewer Women’s Health services now available at deCastro, many clients have transferred to R.L. Schneider Medical Center’s Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center or started getting treatment on St. Thomas, according to Bedminster.

“This had less of an impact publicly in that many clients had already transitioned to clinics on St. Thomas and others found other services on St. John,” she said.

To fill in some of the gaps left by the two departing health care officials, a physician from St. Thomas will be spending more time at the Cruz Bay clinic, explained Bedminster.

“In our Pre-Natal Services, we have our high risk physician who is there twice a month and she will be having longer hours which is actually an improvement for pre-natal care on St. John,” said the DOH spokesperson.

While DOH continues to look for ways to cut costs, officials have no intention of closing deCastro, according to Bedminster.

“DeCastro is not closing,” she said. “What we’ve done is streamline some services to reduce our budget like all other V.I. government agencies. This will bring us in line to bridge the overall budget shortfall of the V.I. government.”

“We will continue to provide accessible and convenient services to the people of St. John in addition to the ambulance boat transportation,” said Bedminster. “So deCastro is not closing.”

Bedminster did not, however, rule out additional layoffs at DOH as the government continues to grapple with budget woes.

“As I sit here today, I cannot tell you about further services being affected,” she said. “If there is still a budget shortfall than we have to look at the services we provide. I can’t say what we’ll be doing in the future.”

Several people familiar with deCastro’s services, however, are worried about the lack of manpower at the clinic. Instead of the usual three Emergency Medical Technicians on call at the DOH clinic, there have been only two EMTs on duty for some time, according to the St. John resident who asked to not be identified.

“It takes two EMTs to do CPR, so then who drives the ambulance,” said the citizen. “This puts St. John in danger. Residents need to be aware of the changes of EMT services and while they can’t complain to the public, they are concerned.”