Luis Hospital CEO resigns


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ST. CROIX - Luis Hospital Chief Executive Officer Jeff Nelson has submitted his resignation.

The resignation - and possibly an exit interview with federal regulators that occurred Friday after yet another survey of the hospital - are likely topics at an emergency meeting today that the Luis Hospital board abruptly called.

Another possible topic for today's board meeting could be Dr. Kendall Griffith, who has emerged as the leading candidate for the hospital's chief operating officer position.

It was not clear Friday what reasons Nelson cited for his resignation or when it might be effective. It also was not clear whether the board would accept the resignation - and if it does, who would fill the leadership void.

Nelson is under contract for one more year, having just this week completed the second year of a three-year contract. It is uncertain how the remaining year on Nelson's contract would be resolved.

Neither Nelson nor Luis Hospital board chairwoman Kye Walker responded to telephone and email messages from The Daily News on Friday evening.

Luis Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Coleridge Franklin confirmed Friday night that Nelson had resigned but declined any further comment about the matter.

The resignation comes at a critical juncture for the hospital, which is less than three weeks away from a deadline to meet all the mandates for improvement contained in a settlement agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS.

The mandates are aimed at fixing deficiencies CMS uncovered during previous surveys.

Hospital officials repeatedly have warned that if the problems are not fixed by the Feb. 13 deadline, Luis could lose the ability to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, which means the hospital would not be reimbursed by the federal government for care provided to Medicare and Medicaid patients. Medicare in particular represents a large portion of hospital revenues.

CMS representatives were at the hospital this week, conducting another survey based on a complaint the federal agency had received. The exit interview with CMS regulators, in which preliminary findings are discussed, was scheduled for Friday.

The board touted Nelson's reputation as a turnaround specialist when he was hired, voicing hopes that he would help the financially-troubled hospital improve its bottom line.

He has since become a lightning rod for controversy, particularly during the last year, starting with his firing of 86 staff members, including 84 licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants, in February 2012.

The move prompted harsh criticism from the community, although hospital officials said it would save the cash-strapped hospital $4.1 million annually and was part of a larger initiative to staff the hospital with registered nurses.

More recently, hospital physicians in December cast a vote of no-confidence in Nelson, citing what they characterized as poor leadership, a poor relationship with physicians and nurses, a lack of transparency and poor development of correction plans for CMS.

Also in December, the hospital board came up with a plan to remove responsibility for clinical care areas from Nelson and place those areas - and implementation of the settlement agreement with CMS - under the responsibility of an interim chief operating officer with a clinical background, who would report directly to the board, not to Nelson.

The board said this week that it had decided on an in-house candidate to be chief operating officer and would be making an offer, although it did not release the successful candidate's name, saying it would do so only after an offer was accepted.

Griffith's name has emerged as the top candidate.

Griffith, an interventional cardiologist, is the director of the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center.

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

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