Federal inspectors note problems at Luis

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ST. CROIX - A Luis Hospital official said Friday night that federal regulators offered a mixed report - noting some improvements and some deficiencies - as they departed Friday after a weeklong inspection at the facility.

"They did not say good or bad," said Luis Hospital Interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kendall Griffith.

Some of the major areas where deficiencies were noted were governance and patient rights, he said, adding that inspectors were not specific about the improvements they said they had seen.

Griffith said that hospital staff were told that an "official" report will come out "in a few weeks."

Federal inspectors from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, showed up at the troubled hospital Monday morning in a surprise visit to conduct a weeklong, full inspection of the facility and to investigate complaints, officials said.

CMS confirmed that inspectors were here this week to do a survey.

Because of a multitude of deficiencies at the hospital and its failure to live up to a November 2011 systems improvement agreement with CMS, the hospital has been under threat of losing its CMS certification.

The certification allows Luis Hospital to be reimbursed for services it provides to Medicare and Medicaid patients, who comprise a large portion of the hospital's book of business.

Griffith said he will remain concerned about the possibility of losing CMS certification until he hears from the federal agency that he no longer needs to be.

Griffith did not provide specifics about the problems in governance and patient rights noted during the inspection, and the hospital has been without a functioning district governing board for more than a year.

The nine-seat Luis Hospital board has only three members, and needs a minimum of two additional members to muster a quorum to conduct business.

The board lost its quorum under political pressure a year ago.

In the midst of controversy in July 2013, Griffith resigned, and a group of senators from the 30th Legislature intervened, petitioning for a special session, during which they said they planned to consider temporarily abolishing the Luis Hospital board, reinstating Griffith and appropriating more money to the hospital.

Before the legislative session took place, though, the hospital board reinstated Griffith to the interim CEO post, and two board members resigned.

Once the first of those resignations took effect, the Luis Hospital board no longer had a quorum. It has been without a quorum and has not conducted a single public meeting since that time.

Once the board members resigned, senators cancelled the session.

Since that time, any governing decisions for the St. Croix hospital have been made from St. Thomas by the territorial hospital board.

The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the nominations of Kimberly Jones and Troy deChabert-Schuster to the Luis Hospital board on Thursday. If they pass through the committee process and get the nod from the full Senate, Jones and deChabert-Schuster's appointments would enable the board to reach a quorum.

On Friday, Griffith said that the CMS inspectors also did not mention to him anything about the hospital's loss of independent consultants, who are supposed to be helping officials bring the hospital up to CMS standards.

The consultants stopped working more than a month ago because the hospital didn't pay them.

The hospital owes Premier, the CMS-approved consultants, approximately $600,000, according to Griffith. The systems improvement agreement requires the hospital to use an independent consultant to help it come into compliance.

Griffith said that he also told CMS inspectors about the cash infusion the hospital is expecting.

Senators passed a borrowing bill in June, which they amended during a special session last month, that will provide some money for the territory's hospitals and to help close a budget gap for the central government.

The money includes cash to pay Luis Hospital's past-due utility bills, about $1 million for it to upgrade medical records and $11 million for it to meet payroll through the end of the fiscal year.

Griffith said he believes conditions at the hospital have improved.

"Our staff has been working extremely hard," he said. "I feel very confident in the work they are doing and very proud of the work they have done providing quality care to our patients."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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