The two hospitals of the U.S. Virgin Islands are struggling with a year of COVID-19, the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes, and staff shortages.
The assessment was delivered Monday by officials from the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and Schneider Regional Medical Center to the board of the Government Hospital and Health Facilities Corporation.
Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion, a board member, opened the meeting with an update of COVID-19. She said there are 156 active COVID cases in the territory – 90 on St. Thomas, 60 on St. Croix, and six on St. John.
Encarnacion emphasized the importance of educating residents about the need for vaccinations against the disease. In the rare cases in which a vaccinated person does get COVID, the vaccination renders the disease less severe, she said, keeping them out of the hospital and usually preventing them from dying. Recent incentives like the COVID lottery initiated by the governor have been working, she said. At the height of the vaccination process, between 300 and 500 people were getting vaccinated daily. That number dropped to only about 100 a day, but the figure has risen again to just over 200 a day.
She added that the territory was doing what it could to help the British Virgin Islands, which has seen a surge in cases.
Encarnacion said discussions were ongoing concerning ferries and private boats that make regular trips between the BVIs and the territory.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said last week that starting July 19, all entries from the BVI – whether by ferry, plane or private charter – must provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of their departure.
Tortola reported four deaths in one recent 24-hour period.
Dr. Luis Amaro, Schneider Regional’s interim chief executive officer, said 10 COVID patients were being treated at the St. Thomas hospital as of Monday morning.
He and Dyma Williams, Juan Luis’ interim chief executive officer, were questioned about “boarders” (a term referring to people housed at the hospital who would be better served at a nursing home). Board member Dr. Frank Odlum said, “Right now, we need those beds.”
Williams said the Juan F. Luis Hospital recently placed four such residents in nursing homes in the states. When asked who was paying for such placements, she said the hospital. She added that it was cheaper to place the residents than to keep them in the hospital. She said it cost the hospital more than $1,000 a day to keep them, while the stay in a stateside nursing home was less than $5,000 a month.
The board convened into executive session to consider a contract for radiology equipment from Biotech Corporation in an amount not to exceed $190,000 and personnel changes.
The board approved renewing medical privileges for several staff members at the two hospitals.