More than 50 St. John residents came prepared with questions and comments at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center (MKSCHC) Administrator Harold Wallaces State of the Health Center Address on Wednesday evening, March 22.
Wallace began the press conference, which focused mainly on funding, by giving an update on what he has accomplished since coming aboard as administrator five and a half months ago.
The health center is in good shape, but there are opportunities for improvement, he said. One of the most significant challenges is having a proper I.T. system for charges and billing. Improvement of health services, added staff, community support and improvement of customer service are needed.
Funding for the health center is something Wallace hopes to improve with MediTech, a new billing system.
Were moving in the right direction of capturing our charges, he said. We did have issues with the system in the past. Now, were doing a very good job of capturing our charges.
Community Doesnt Know Wallace
Wallace also asked for increased community support and fund-raising, which prompted members of the audience to criticize him for not getting to know residents of St. John.
Nobody sees you, and you need to be seen, said St. John Administrator Julien Harley. The community wants to help you, but youve got to sell yourself. Youve got to put some fire in your belly, and walk the street and talk to peopleyou need to know St. Johnians.
Other residents also encouraged Wallace to get to know St. Johnians.
Dont take us frivolously, said one resident. We can give you advice. If you want to lead this ship by yourself, well stand by and watch you sink.
Wallace acknowledged he is interested in getting to know the community, and said he has not yet done so because of all the work that needed to be done at the health center.
The first few months on the job were spent concentrating on business, and Wallace will begin to mingle with residents during the next year, he said.
I do need to listen to the public, he said. I will make it my business. I knew when I came here and saw the books, that I needed to be in the health center.
Bills From RLS
Residents also questioned why they receive bills from Roy L. Schneider (RLS) Hospital on St. Thomas for services received at MKSCHC.
One woman said she refused to pay a bill she received from RLS until hospital staff could explain to her what the bill was for. I said, tell me what it is that Im being billed for, and they couldnt explain it, she said.
Wallace agreed the issue needs further exploration, and said an M on the bill in front of the account number designates services received at MKSCHC.
Youre absolutely right, you should receive an explanation, he said. These are things that we have to take into consideration. This is a new system, and we will have bumps.
MKSCHC falls under the umbrella of the Schneider Regional Medical Center, a relationship that is necessary for the survival of the clinic, said Wallace.
Myrah Keating must be supported by Roy Lester Schneider, he said. Right now, it cant sustain itself. We just cant do that financially.
Were doing very well under this particular model, Wallace added.
A lack of funding also restricts the health services that the clinic can offer. A particular service must prove to be cost-effective before expensive systems can be installed, said Wallace.
Its not that we dont want to put a particular service in the clinic, he said. We dont have enough dialysis patients to support a system that will cost millions of dollars. We do understand your concerns, and we want to address them.
New services are currently being researched, and there are plans for rotating services to be provided through the partnership with RLS, including radiology and podiatry.
This will be an integration plan with the hospital, said Wallace. We need the help of the system.
An upgrade to lab services at MKSCHC is a work in progress, he added.
Some residents disagreed with Wallaces statement that employee morale is coming along pretty good.
You do have some disgruntled employees, said one woman. You need to listen to them. An outsider coming in can see a disjointed operation here.
We want you to try to look into that, because we want this place to be the best it can be, she added.
RLS CEO Rodney Miller pointed out that despite the womans sentiment that employees are disgruntled, not one person at the meeting complained about bad service.
These folks have been breaking their backs here for years, he said. I havent heard anyone complain about treatment.
The system is going to fail? asked Miller in response to another residents comment. I certainly beg to differ.
Problems With St. Thomas Care
Several residents shared problems they had with being transferred to St. Thomas for medical care.
One woman said that she was taken to St. Thomas for an emergency, and was discharged at 11 p.m.
If I have to go over there again, and you discharge me after the ferries have stopped running, I aint moving, she said.
A plan is in the works to set up hotel rooms in the hospital, or to work with nearby hotels to offer discount rates for people who are discharged after the ferries have stopped running for the day, said Miller.
Those things take major funding, he said. That wont happen overnight.
An EMT said patients have begged him not to take them to St. Thomas because of verbal abuse they receive in the emergency room.
Some people have told me in tears, please dont take me to St. Thomas, he said. They hear comments like these boat people, or these St. Johnians. This is verbal abuse.
Hospital administrators will not tolerate this behavior, said Miller.
We dont condone that at all, he said. We will deal with it swiftly and immediately.
Residents also criticized Wallace, who lives on St. Thomas, for taking the barge rather than the ferry each day, on the governments dime.
If he feels thats the best transportation for him to do his job, I dont have a problem with that as his boss, said Miller.
Residents pointed to this problem as evidence of Wallaces lack of effort to get to know the community.
It goes into acting as a team leader here in the community, said one resident.
Wallace told residents that he has an open door policy, and said anyone can call him directly at the health center.
Wallace can be reached by calling the health center at 693-8900 ext. 6613.