During the September 21 Legislative Session, Senator Patrick Simeon Sprauve, chairperson of the legislature’s Committee on Health and Hospitals, offered an amendment appropriating $375,000 to the Department of Health’s program dedicated to Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and Children with Special Health Care Needs.
This amendment became Section 20 of Act 7307 which provided for lump sum appropriations from the Health Revolving Fund for the Fiscal Year beginning October 1, 2011 and ending September 30, 2012.
The appropriation was designed to alleviate the imminent need for DOH to dismiss several of its employees. On October 7, Governor John deJongh signed Act 7307 into law but vetoed Section 20 of the Act, rejecting in its entirety, Sprauve’s $375,000 appropriation for DOH’s MCH program.
Despite efforts by the legislature to act quickly after its belated learning of the dismissals, deJongh chose to retain appropriations having less direct impact on the lives of Virgin Islanders and veto this relatively small appropriation from the Health Revolving Fund which would have preserved all important jobs during the current economic crisis.
The governor’s continuing failure to nominate a much needed DOH Commissioner is certainly a factor contributing significantly to the oversight and/or mismanagement which led to the failure by DOH to know in advance and to timely convey to the legislature the threat to the positions of the dismissed DOH employees, explained Sprauve.
DOH officials testified before the Committee on Health and Hospitals on September 7 that no federally-funded positions within the department were in jeopardy, according to Sprauve.
“To learn that dismissal letters were nonetheless issued broke my heart, which goes out to those dismissed in these trying times,” said the senator. “Avoiding this scenario was the reason for the appropriation and was the justification for its request offered by DOH. It is my hope that the department did not then have full knowledge that their representations to the legislature were untrue and mere false pretenses to acquire the desired appropriation.”
“This type of mismanagement and lack of accountability within DOH is a clear symptom of the lack of appropriate leadership,” said Sprauve. “I continue to implore the governor to appoint a DOH Commissioner so that accountability and responsibility will be restored promptly to DOH.”