Luis Hospital appoints 2 certifying officers, averts paycheck-signing crisis


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ST. CROIX - Luis Hospital employees will be getting paid today, after two new certifying officers for the hospital were appointed Wednesday and the government provided the hospital with a cash advance.

"It's been resolved. Everybody's going to get their checks," said Luis Hospital Interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kendall Griffith.

This payday, unlike others, all employees will be getting their money by actual paycheck rather than through direct deposit.

Griffith said that the cash advance from the Central Government did not get to the bank in time to do direct deposit for the scheduled payday today, so the money would not have been available to employees until Friday. The decision was made to use paychecks instead, so employees would have access to their money today, according to Griffith.

"Everybody who usually gets direct deposit will be getting checks instead," he said.

Griffith, who is already a certifying officer and the new ones - Chief Nursing Officer Tita Encarnacion and Vice President of Human Resources Ellenor Paul-O'Neill - will be hand-signing all the checks, Griffith said. Hospital checks must be signed by two certifying officers.

In recent months, the Central Government has repeatedly had to step in to provide the hospital with advances on its allotment so employees could be paid, with the intervals between the advances becoming shorter and shorter.

Most recently, the hospital could not make its payroll two weeks ago, so it got an advance on its December allotment for the final November paycheck. Now that the first payday in December is here, the hospital required another advance and already is tapping into its January funding.

The territory's hospitals have two major sources of income: revenue from operations and appropriations from the government.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. told The Daily News on Tuesday that he will meet with senators at some point during the next two weeks to try to find additional funding for the hospital's operations.

However, he said that they will have to make "difficult" choices, because there is no additional money and any extra funding for the hospital will have to be taken away from somewhere else.

Today's paycheck also will be less than usual, reflecting the 8 percent pay cut across the board for hospital employees that Griffith announced Nov. 29 and goes into effect with this paycheck.

Griffith said he implemented the pay cuts - and fired 15 employees - on Nov. 29 as a means to bring the hospital's expenses more in line with its revenue. He said those moves would help stabilize the hospital's finances.

Despite those measures, the hospital still was unable to meet payroll today without the advance from the central government.

"It takes time. We have been deep in the hole, and it has taken time for us to come out of it," Griffith said.

The pay cuts have prompted a grievance filed by one union and a request for a discussion from another, according to Griffith. He said Wednesday night that he could not remember which unions have taken issue with the pay cuts.

Griffith also said that he thinks the hospital will be able to make the final payroll in December without further cash advances from the government.

"I think that based on the trends right now - I'm not 100 percent sure - but we look to be on track to be able to make the next payroll," he said.

According to Griffith, billing has increased. He expects that collections also will increase, he said.

Rosalie Javois, who was formerly a chief financial officer at the hospital, is working at Luis again, this time on a temporary basis leading the revenue cycle team, Griffith said.

Griffith has chosen a different former hospital CFO, Nellon Bowry, as his pick for a temporary, acting CFO at the hospital until a national search can be conducted, he said. However, they are still talking about a possible start date and it has not yet been decided when Bowry will come on board, according to Griffith.

The Daily News was unable to reach Bowry on Wednesday.

Encarnacion and Paul-O'Neill were named certifying officers on Wednesday, officials said.

"Change is difficult. Change is many times filled with controversy, but at JFL, change is very necessary and we can make it through these difficult times to be able to improve the quality of care and the level of service that we provide to the people of St. Croix," Griffith said.

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

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