Senate Panel OKs Bill to Straighten Out JFL Property Funding

Sen. Kenneth Gittens speaks to his colleagues about the need for his proposed legislation. (Legislature photo)

A V.I. Senate committee resolved an obstacle to purchasing property for the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital when they realized that the original bill identified the wrong funding source.

The Senate Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services forwarded legislation on Friday to address the issue. If passed by the full Senate and signed by the governor, the bill will enable the Virgin Islands Government Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation to acquire Plot No. 7 Estate Diamond Ruby on St. Croix for the reconstruction and expansion of the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center.

One of the sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Kenneth Gittens, said this is the second time he has introduced legislation about this land purchase. After the Legislature passed the initial bill, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. vetoed it because of the funding source identified by the bill.

“He vetoed the bill because the funding source in the original legislation had been depleted,” Gittens said. “However, we realized soon thereafter the proposed legislation back then outlined the wrong section in Act 7697. The bill cited section (two) paragraph three when it should have stated section two, paragraph one.”

Those sections of Act 7697 both appropriate money from ““(a)ny refund from CIGNA to the Government of the Virgin Islands for overpayment.” Paragraph three allocates any funds from that source, if they exist, for renovations for the Eldra Shulterbrandt facility on St. Thomas. Paragraph one directs funds from the same source, if they exist, to establish JFL’s psychiatric ward, which has been closed for a number of years.

The new legislation, Bill 34-0017, redirects money, if any, leftover from Act 7697 for the JFL psychiatric ward, plus $400,000 from the Community Facilities Trust Account. The funds are to be issued to the Virgin Islands Government Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation to acquire the property.

“This land consists of more than some three acres directly adjacent to the hospital,” Gittens said. “Acquiring this land for construction of our new hospital could speed up the construction process by months or even years and save us a great deal of money, and we know we need to save money as well while helping to minimize disruptions to services.”

Gittens said the measure required quick action because there are other interested buyers.

“Purchasing this land allows us to move forward more quickly rather than waiting on total demolition of the current structure and the expanded footprint of St. Croix’s healthcare facility also affords us the opportunity to expand the services available to residents and visitors alike,” Gittens said.

Attorney Chivonne Thomas, who spoke on behalf of the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Dyma Williams, said the planning and design of the permanent hospital will take 18 to 24 months. Similarly, the “demolition and the remediation of the current JFL building will also take about 18 months.”

Thomas estimated construction will be completed by winter 2027.

“St. Croix needs quality healthcare, and a state-of-the-art hospital is critical,” Gittens said. “Building our facility adjacent to the current hospital would save us time and money and ensure continuity in care.”

Sens. Gittens, Novelle Francis Jr., Janelle Sarauw, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, and Alma Francis Heyliger were present for the hearing, while Sen. Kurt Vialet was excused. Non-committee members were also present.