Pafford Not Pulling Out of Territory, Government Paying Money Owed

Pafford Medical Services isn’t pulling out of the territory and the money owed by the government to the company — approximately $34 million — should be paid in a matter of days, according to officials.

There are more details in between, but speaking by phone Thursday, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said that’s the bottom line, as rumors that more than 100 medical professionals across the islands had abruptly left circulated and began making headlines. The Pafford contract was also broached as a topic of concern by senators Wednesday as Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital executives appeared in the well and explained that a separate contract with the company would be executed directly by Health as the previous one — which covered services rendered during a state of emergency — approaches its expiration date.

Encarnacion said with the state of emergency, which was declared during the COVID-19 pandemic, the buildup on payment was the result of an internal audit process triggered by the use of federal funds, which includes determining whether the initial contract was “cost reasonable.” As a gauge, Health looked at similar contracts executed by other jurisdictions and found the one with the territory to be on par.

The contract covered about 155 employees that provided nursing, medical, and emergency medical services support across government agencies, including the territory’s hospitals.

With the “checks and balances” process complete, payment should be made within the next few days, and Health will move forward with a renewed relationship, though not at the level seen during the state of emergency, according to officials.

“Health, all of us, recognize the need for additional support and staff and apologizes for the delay in payment,” Encarnacion said. “Pafford has been a true partner and we will be continuing a relationship post-state of emergency.”

In a release Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it has committed an additional $33.5 million to the territory as reimbursement for emergency medical services rendered during the pandemic — including Health, which contracted for “emergency medical services to provide ambulances, personnel, equipment and supplies,” to assist response efforts from July 2, 2022 to Feb. 28, 2023.

“FEMA’s partnership with the territory led to unified efforts that supported lifesaving and life-sustaining measures during a challenging time for the U.S. Virgin Islands and the nation,” said FEMA Virgin Islands Caribbean Area Office Coordinator Mark A. Walters. “We answered the territory’s request to support its COVID-19 response in March 2020 and it was a privilege to support its efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus over the last three years.”

As of this month, FEMA has reimbursed $146.1 million locally for pandemic response efforts and for support of vaccine centers, emergency operations centers, and personal protective equipment, among other things, according to the release.