Category: Health, Hospitals & Human Services


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Health and Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Oakland Benta, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Monday, to receive testimony on an update of the status of the Virgin Islands Health Care Industry.

Currently, structural and internal damages sustained because of Hurricane Irma and Maria were repaired, and essential services resumed at the Roy L. Schneider Medical Center (SRMC). Some of them are the re-opening of the Operating Room, Emergency Medicine, Heart & Lung Services, and Hemodialysis. However, due to the lack of a financial investment, the Charlotte Kimmelman Cancer Institute remains closed for patient care services. The Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center (MKS) remains inoperable. MKS General outpatient medical services were relocated to the DeCastro Clinic in St. John.

Some of the significant financial challenges of SRMC include the lack of ability to comply with the Collective Bargaining Unions negotiated salary increases estimated at $2.8 million; the Government Employee Retirement System (GERS) in which $2.7 million is required to complete the conversion of employer rates, and an additional $8 million in allotments from the Government of the Virgin Islands is needed to offset the $30 million in uncompensated care to Virgin Islands residents. As it relates to the Community Disaster Loan (CDL), Sen. Benta inquired if SRMC will be able to draw down on the CDL by the March 31, 2019 deadline. Chief Medical Officer of SRMC Luis Amaro noted that SRMC is operating due to access to CDL and all funds are expected to be expended by the period.

Similarly, Juan F. Luis Hospital (JFL) Acting Chief Executive Officer Dyma Williams shared an update. Post-Hurricane Maria, there was extensive water and structural damages to JFL. As a result, services at the Operating Room has declined, Interventional Cardiology Services was adversely affected, and the inpatient-bed capacity has reduced from 80 to 46 beds.  Furthermore, to resolve those issues, FEMA indicated that replacing JFL by building a new hospital is necessary. However, the timeline for that project is unconfirmed. Despite paying down ongoing bills to WAPA, suppliers, contractors, and GERS, JFL remains in financial debt. The operating expenditures and payroll obligations are met through the $42 million approved by CDL of which the amount expended is $37 million.

In addition to SRMC, JFL, the V.I. Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Frederiksted Health Care Center (FHC), Inc., St. Thomas East End Medical Center (STEEMCC) and the V.I. Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. also shared an overview. Thus far, DOH has resolved three outstanding arbitration cases, processed over a 1,000 Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Certificates, reorganized the Immunization Division, and hired twenty-seven new employees, promoted twenty-two employees and currently have eight-four vacancies. DOH actively participated in Contract Bargaining Agreements Negotiations, implemented two minimum wage increases and settled thirty grievance cases including those that were outstanding.

Post-Hurricane Maria, there were structural damages to DHS Golden Rock Office in St. Croix. As a result, the department relocated to five different buildings. DHS received a total of $3,989,177 from the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) issued for benefits distributed in February 2019. Considering a potential government shut down, it is unclear of the availability of FNS funds for March 2019. The lack of staff is one of the significant challenges of the department. There are eighty-seven vacancies; this significantly affects the Division of Senior Citizens Affairs. There is a reduction of juvenile delinquent cases in the St. Thomas-St. John District. However, there is an increase in the St. Croix District.

Separately, some of the initiatives of the Frederiksted Healthcare Center are providing behavioral, medical and dental services to the homeless population, obtaining a Center of Disease Control grant to educate the community about AIDS and HIV, and receiving an Elton John Foundation Grant for the FHC needle exchange program. FHC’s challenges include the need to recruit additional Licensed Practical Nurses and dental assistants, limited inpatient care for psychiatric patients and a prolonged process for licensing for Medical and Dental Providers.

Despite the destruction caused by the hurricanes, STEEMCC facility remained undamaged. The assets were untouched, and provider and staff continued working which enables continued patient care. One of STEEMCC challenges is uncompensated care costs. According to STEEMCC Executive Director, Moleto Smith, Jr. private pay group also known as self-pay is 40% of the payer mix; this resulted in unpaid debt.

The major challenge for the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. is obtaining the required resources to conduct program services effectively. Some of the initiatives include the expansion of the Family to Family Health Care Centers Programs to the Virgin Islands, collaborating with Vocational Rehabilitation that provides wrap-around services, and increasing grant writing training opportunities.




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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, and approved several measures including Bill No. 32-0244- An Act amending title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1 subchapter VII, section 161 relating to the practice of optometry.

The measure seeks to expand optometrists to treat glaucoma in the Virgin Islands as compared to their counterparts on the U.S. mainland.

Glaucoma is a disease of the eye associated with an elevated ocular pressure that can damage the optic nerve which can lead to loss of vision and irreversible blindness. This disease is highly prevalent among the African American population.

“Previously, the bill excluded optometrist from treating glaucoma. It is important to note that 49 states have expanded the scope of Optometrist except for Massachusetts,” said Sponsor of the Bill Sen. O’Reilly.  “The intent of this legislation does not allow optometrists to do surgery, laser treatment or incisions.”

Lisa Adams, an Optometrist/Member of the Board of Optometrically Examiners, stated that patients would benefit from expanding the availability of providers to treat a high incidence of glaucoma. “By granting this prescriptive authority of therapeutics in the Virgin Islands, it would bring the practice of optometry on par with the nation.”

However, a written testimony submitted by Michelle Davis, Commissioner, for the Virgin Islands Department of Health opposes the legislation and urges lawmakers to “table” the amendment. “The key concern is that any plans to further expand the scope of practice for CTOs must include a fully appointed and active Optometry Board prepared to regulate the scope of any expansion.”

In addition to Bill. No. 32-0244, senators also voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0235-an Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 23, section 415, subsection (b), paragraph (2) subparagraph (B) relating to the composition of the Board of Dental Examiners to authorize of a dental therapist to the board. Sen. O’Reilly is the sponsor of this measure.

“The fact remains that there are 94 licensed dentists and over 100,000 residents who need dental services. The public should have access to their dentists and not be discouraged by long waiting lists,” said Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. “Adding dental therapist is a win-win situation that will benefit the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Sen. Janette Millin Young inquired about the lack of access to dentists. Olutayo Delano, BDS, MS, Chair of the Virgin Islands Board of Dental Examiners stated that there are more than 94 dentists because there are ten offices housing more dentists. The problem is not the lack of dental care access but that patients are not coming in because they pick a provider based on the referral process.

Commissioner Davis stated that she does not support this measure. “It is premature to adopt dental therapy legislation considering that the field is still in development. The Territory has successfully improved access to quality dental care in a variety of ways through licensure and adopting sound proven standards.”

“I don’t understand the pushback,” said Sen. Sammuel Sanes. “Oral hygiene is critical. Poor oral hygiene can lead to a medical diagnosis that is detrimental to the health of a patient. Dental therapists can help streamline the process.”

Separately, the following measures were approved:

  • Bill No. 32-0236-An Act amending Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, subchapter III relating to the practice of dental therapy in the Territory
  • BR No. 32-0247-an Act to provide funding for the establishment of an inpatient mental health facility with supporting resources in the Virgin Islands.
  • Bill No. 32-0245-An Act amending Title 19, Virgin Islands Code part II, chapter 15, section 222 to exempt Urgent Care Facilities from the requirement of getting a certificate of need and mandating that these entities must accept MAP, Medicare, and uninsured patients
  • Bill No. 32-0173-a Resolution honoring and commending the Family Resource Center for its services to victims and families in the U.S. Virgin Islands throughout the years

All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senators present are Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Janette Millin Young, Sammuel Sanes, Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Photos:



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ST. CROIX- The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, held a committee meeting Wednesday at the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center where three essential proposed measures were considered.

The three measures sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’Reilly were: Bill No. 32-0197- to ensure the physical, mental, and behavioral needs of companion animals in shelters and other facilities; Bill No. 32-0177- an Act amending the Virgin Islands relating to renewal of nursing licenses; and Bill No.32-0212- an Act amending the Virgin Islands Code to allow for the pronouncement of death by registered nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Testifying on Bill No.32-0197 were Carlos Robles, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture; Randolph Knight, President, Lucky Paws Foundation; Dr. Bethany Bradford, Director of Veterinary Services, Daniel Rodriguez, Police Detective, V.I. Police Department; and Donna Nemeth, Director of Operations, Humane Society of St. Croix.

Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly said her Bill seeks to establish a minimum standard under which animal centers and other facilities operate. She added that the main objective is to make sure these animals are provided with the proper care in a humane manner.

Comm. Robles said the Bill provides a careful balance of establishing a solid regulatory framework for operations and management without onerous and counterproductive restrictions. Knight of Lucky Paws Foundation said for the Bill to be effective, there must be inspections and enforcement guidelines.

According to Dr. Braford, the bill addresses another level of animal welfare and protection of public health that has been lacking in the Virgin Islands. She added that there are two main issues in the bill that require additional comments: inspection and registration of facilities and animals and enforcement of the provisions in the Bill.

All other testifiers said they supported the intent of Bill No. 32-0197. The committee voted in favor and sent it to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

On Bill No. 32-0177, Sen. Rivera-O’Reilly said upon the request of the members of the VI Board of Nurse Licensure to alleviate what can become an overwhelming license-renewal process. She added that the Bill amends the current statute so that now license renewals would take place during the birth month of the license holder.

The Bill was given a favorable recommendation and sent to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration following an amendment to change the deadline to seventy-five days before the expiration date from October 15 and strike the sentence that indicates the validity of the license as being from January 1 to December 31.

Chairwoman Rivera-O’Reilly said, Bill, No. 32-0212 allow for the attending physician as well as registered nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners to pronounce the death of a hospice patient.

Claude Walker, Attorney General of the Virgin Islands said it is understandable that the traditional role of nurses and physician assistants should be expanded to include specific situations in which they may be able to pronounce death. For this reason, he added, his department has concluded that the overall intent of the Bill has merit.

Tracy Sanders, President of Continuum Healthcare Inc., said hospice services do not pronounce death, however, it will if the Bill becomes law.  The bill was amended and voted on with a favorable recommendation to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Committee members at Wednesday’s hearing were: Chairwoman, Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Sammuel Sanes, Kurt A. Vialet, and Novelle E. Francis Jr.



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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, and approved Bill No. 32-0064 to provide for a registry of the elderly and people with disabilities living alone and to receive an update on medical evacuations post-Hurricane Irma and Maria.

“After hurricanes occurred many of the seniors were displaced. This legislation is significant in assisting persons to receive the necessary assistance as a result of a natural disaster,” said Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, Sponsor of the bill.

The Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute for Bill No. 32-0064 includes keeping the data collected for registry confidential and not be disclosed other than to assist the individual in time of a natural disaster or if there is a medical emergency. If unlawfully disclosed, perpetrators can be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned for one year. The Department of Human Services shall maintain a registry of persons 60 years and older who live alone and persons with disabilities who live alone.

Ana Valez-Martinez, Director of Herbert Grigg Home for the Elderly stated that there are many registries throughout the government but there isn’t a single registry that can be accessed territory-wide. Therefore, emergency agencies should partake in this bill.  “Implementation of a more comprehensive registry, would provide an opportunity for emergency response agencies to obtain information through the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management to facilitate better planning of critical services that these individuals need during natural disasters or other emergencies,” said Director Martinez.

“What is the estimated cost to get the registry started and how many staffers are needed to oversee it?” asked Sen. Janet Millin Young. Director Martinez stated that approximately $15,000 is needed to implement and monitor the system. Additional funds are required to hire two staff members. “Will the staff work full-time or part-time?” inquired Sen. O’Reilly. In response, Director Martinez stated that initially, staff will work full-time to manage and market the registry territory-wide. Employment status can be revisited the following year.

Ultimately, committee members voted favorably for the bill and its amendment. It will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. Separately, lawmakers were updated on the status of medical evacuations and an evacuation plan in wake of a natural disaster.

As of April 6, 2018, there is a total of 796 patients that were medically evacuated from the Territory to Georgia, Puerto Rico, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana. 190 dialysis, classic and non-medical attendant’s patients off-island. Out of the 175 patients relocated to Georgia, 106 patients receive hemodialysis treatment, 21 patients are classic medical conditions, 48 are non-medical attendants and there were 49 patients who died; according to the Virgin Islands Department of Health Commissioner Michelle Davis.

“Did the department properly document the 49 patients who expired and the cause of their deaths?” asked Sen. Novelle Francis. Kathleen Arnold-Louis, Liaison for Medical Evacuees, Department of Health said, “I would have to say no we do not have proper documentation at this time. However, the Department requested Death Certificates for the deceased but that does not include the events leading up to the person’s death.”

Although the Government of the Virgin Islands did not have an evacuation plan in wake of two hurricanes, officials relied heavily on an evacuation plan from the Federal Government.

Commissioner Davis stated that the Federal Government standard operating procedures were followed for the evacuation of the residents. “The Federal Government coordinated and paid for the evacuation and the medical care of clients which included meals, lodging, transportation and the medical needs identified through December 30, 2017. The Federal Government is also paying for the return trip of all discharged patients.”

Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “A plan is necessary before the next hurricane season. There needs to be a solid plan in place by the end of the week or the end of the month to ensure that the loss of lives after a patient is transferred to medical hospitals and facilities off-island does not occur again.” Chief Executive Officer of Juan Louis F. Hospital and Medical Center Ruben Malloy said, “There are many evacuation plans in place. VITEMA has a plan and the Department of Health has a plan. We are in a learning process and lessons learned are based on the events that took place after the storms.” Sen. O’Reilly said, “Without a written plan. Then a plan does not exist.”

Senators present are Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Janette Millin Young, Marvin Blyden, Sammuel Sanes. Novell Francis, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Photo:





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St. Thomas- The Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services chaired by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, held a meeting on Friday, at the Capitol Building to receive testimony from officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (DHS) on the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC), V.I. Medical Assistance Program (MAP), Contractual Obligations and other topics.

The Youth Rehabilitation Center and the Division of Juvenile Justice has suffered structural damages to the building after the occurrence of Hurricane Irma and Maria. There are on-going efforts to secure contractors to fix the kitchen, air conditioning units, and the YRC Annex also needs to be repaired. The buildings are located in a flood zone. Therefore, flooding is a major challenge when there are heavy rains stated Commissioner of VIDHS Felecia Blyden. “The government needs to do a better job at thoroughly inspecting buildings prior to making a purchase,” said Sen. Sammuel Sanes.

In a line of questioning, Sen. O’Reilly inquired of the accuracy of limited food/water, cleaning supplies, working generator, money owed to generator contractor and if there is an emergency plan for residents at YRC. DHS Deputy Commissioner Rashida Daniels stated that there are adequate meals provided for residents, the generator is not functional, monies are owed to the contractor and YRC has an emergency plan that needs to be updated.

“Are there rehabilitating programs for residents at YRC?” asked Sen. Janelle Sarauw. In response, Daniels stated that massive personnel are needed to work in the Treatment Division to implement holistic treatments offered to residents. However, YRC is currently understaffed. Sen. Sarauw stated that rehabilitation is necessary for young people and DHS should outsource vendors to assist with the program.

In addition to YRC, Commissioner Blyden also shared the post-hurricanes MAP update. The Bipartisan Budget Act was signed into law on February 9, 2018, by President Donald Trump. This removed the local matching funds of 45% for MAP that is now covered 100% by the Federal Government. Temporarily, it became the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) and will remain in effect until September 2109. This law enables the MAP to process weekly payment cycles. To Streamline the Provider Enrollment Unit, there will be a reduction in the enrollment process for provider applications.

“Can you expound on the plans to assist Virgin Islanders to enroll in MAP?” inquired Sen. Marvin Blyden. Director of MAP Gary Smith said, “The Department is working towards placing outstation workers at all hospitals and Federally Qualified Centers Territory-wide. The workers will assist new enrollees and existing members with various services.” The projected start date is April 2018 added Commissioner Blyden.

Separately, lawmakers were updated on the contractual obligations, presumptive eligibility, and V.I. Benefits Enrollment System.

Currently, there are 42 contracts administered to programs at DHS. The breakdown of the contracts are as follows: Office of Residential Services, the Division of Family Assistance, Medical Assistance Program and Division of Senior Citizens Affairs. The Presumptive Eligibility process at Federally Qualified Health Centers is scheduled to begin in April 2018. Staff training is necessary to ensure a smooth enrollment process. Staff training will occur mid-April 2018. The major challenge for the V.I. Benefits Enrollment System is connectivity between the Local Area Network and the Cloud. The Commissioner stated that the Bureau of Information Technology advised VIDHS to operate only from the Cloud because data is secured there.

Senators present are Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, Kurt Vialet, Sammuel Sanes, Novelle Francis, and Sen. Marvin Blyden. Click to access photos:



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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida, hosted a Mental Health Forum at that Capitol Building on Wednesday, to discuss the impact of mental illness and other disabilities have on residents in the Territory.


“The Mental Health Forum is a culmination of two nights in which panellists have an opportunity to share their professional and personal experiences. Initially, it was a part of the agenda of this Committee in a very broad sense and narrowed down by drafting legislation. Unfortunately, progress was delayed due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria,” said Sen. O’Reilly.


Similarly, Sen. Janette Millin Young shared her sentiments. “Generally, people are moved by Mental Health because it touches the hearts of many. We are here tonight to contribute to this process.”


Some of the items addressed by panellists include how to identify warning signs and symptoms, exploring mental illness, trauma and substance abuse and practical ways to manage mental illness.


Derek Spencer, Doctor at Island Therapy Solutions stated that in the mainland, education, health and social services work closely together to address the issue of Mental Health. However, this is not the case in the Territory. “People in power do not contribute sufficiently to this matter. Mentally ill people should receive basic care and there is absolutely nothing here. There is no cohesiveness of services and medications to treat patients are very expensive.”


The Department of Health has spent a great deal of time educating the community on the differences between chronic mental health such as depression and mental health disorders stated Felicia Blyden, Commissioner of the Department of Health (DOH). Some mental health disorders can be caused by trauma in an individual’s life such as the loss of a parent, caring for an ageing parent, isolation and being suicidal.


“Often, there are people who gravitate towards substance abuse as a means of eradicating trauma,” said Berlina Wallace-Berube from the Department of Health. “DOH provides a variety counseling services that are confidential. However, there are people who shun away from receiving care because of the negative stigma attached to Mental Illness. There is nothing shameful about asking for help.”


Panellists included the Health Service Advisory Group, Department of Health, Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dr. Spencer, Kia Griffith, and Dawn O’Bryan.


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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by SenRivera O’Reilly, met with officials from the Health Industry at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony on an update, post-Hurricane Irma and Maria.

“Before the storms, our average daily inpatient census was 60-80 patients. Following the hurricanes, our inpatient census has dropped by 50%. Patients with critical and long-term care were relocated to medical facilities on the mainland,” said Bernard Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer of Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC). This is a result of severe structural damages to the roofing system of the Roy L. Schneider Hospital and the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center. The Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center is inoperable because of mold infestation.

Wanda Ruben Chief Executive Officer of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital (JFL) shared similar sentiments. “The hospital’s patient census post-Hurricane Maria ranges between 30-40 patients compared to the average of 55-70 patients before the storm. JFL has suffered extensive damage on the roof, supporting structures and environmental challenges.”

“Where is JFL housing patients now?” asked Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. CEO Ruben, “Patients were relocated to the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center which reduced the inpatient capacity by 50%. the Western Shelters is used as a temporary medical facility as well.”

Lawmakers inquired about setting up a modular hospital that can treat patients in the Territory.

“When can we expect to have, a temporary medical center established through tents, modular units and structural repairs to both hospitals?” asked Sen. O’Reilly. Reuben Malloy, Deputy Commissioner of VIDOH, stated that the existing plans for the tents were problematic because the initial designs did not include all components of the hospitals. A timeline cannot be established for the modules and rebuilding both hospitals until federal agencies complete a full assessment.

Sen. Kurt Vialet said, “What is the status of the tents?” Daryl Smalls, Vice President of Facilities Management at SRMC said, “Phase I which is the construction of the eights tents are completed. Phase II also have eight tents. However, Phase III is still under production and is not completed. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are still conducting assessments and a final decision will be made.

In addition to SRMC and JFL, the V.I. Department of Health (VIDOH) experienced structural damages to the facilities and employees had to relocate to provide health services. However, VIDOH continued to remain active after the storms.

“VIDOH collaborated with local agencies such as VITEMA, St. Croix Medical and Schneider Regional Medical Center to evacuate a total of 441 medical evacuees, facilitated medical supplies and distribution, performed medical services assessment and requested the activation of the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP),” said Malloy. EPAP is available from November 1, 2017, to February 3, 2018, and has served 558 people with a total cost of $119,911.18 since activation.

In a line of questioning Sen. O’Reilly inquired about the number evacuees who died, the location of the medical facilities that had expired patients and the number of patient site visits by the commissioner to hospitals in the mainland. In response, Malloy said, “To date there were twelve patients who have perished. There is a nationwide tracking system that documents a patient’s death and the hospital which it occurred. VIDOH does not have access to that. The commissioner is scheduled to visit evacuees at the hospital in Atlanta.”

“Has the process been fluid in returning the remains of expired patients who are off-island to be brought back to the Territory?” asked Sen. Novelle Francis. Malloy said, “The process of returning patients takes a lot longer than expected. The return of the remains is a prolonged process.”

Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “How has the V.I. Department of Human Services (VIDHS) assisted the people who are mentally ill and homeless post-hurricane?” Felecia Blyden, Commissioner of VIDHS said, “We are working with the Catholic Charities in both districts and non-profit agencies to offer temporary housing. VIDHS is also collaborating with federal agencies to provide permanent housing.”

Before the hurricanes, there were nine shelters available to residents in the Territory. However, on St. Croix the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged, the Strive Center Knud Hansen on St. Thomas and the Bethany Moravian Church on St. John remains open. Additionally, VIDHS operated the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) Territory-wide. In which $25,606,616 of D-SNAP benefits provided to eligible households; according to Commissioner Blyden.

Committee Members present are senators: Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Kurt A. Vialet, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Janette Millin Young and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Non-committee senators attended: Jean Forde and Janelle Sarauw.







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ST. THOMAS – Senate President Myron D. Jackson announces that legislative meetings scheduled for the week of September 4 to 8 are postponed, due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma. The public will be informed of new dates. A final determination regarding the Legislative Session scheduled for September 8 will be made once the storm passes and its impacts are determined, he said.

Regarding the operations of the Legislature on all three islands, legislative employees are expected to report to work for 8 a.m. on Tuesday to secure their offices and, upon completion, will be allowed to leave at noon to continue their hurricane preparations at home. Casual wear is encouraged.

Based on reports from the National Hurricane Center and VITEMA, President Jackson said the Virgin Islands will likely be impacted by wind, rain, and ocean surge, particularly in the northern areas.

“As those reports are received I shall inform the public, all senators and our staff as to the operations of the Legislature,” he said. “All persons should therefore carefully monitor the media, including LEGIT TV – which can be accessed on Channel 5 throughout the territory, for announcements which may inform as to the operational status of the Legislature during the affected period.”

President Jackson said that the Legislature shall operate during this period only as weather conditions permit.

“Should the weather dictate the cessation of our operation for safety and health concerns, those decisions shall be made promptly and specific announcements shall be made,” he said. “I offer a prayer that all persons in the Virgin Islands, the Leeward and Windward Islands, and elsewhere be spared from Hurricane Irma. Please look to protect your families, friends, and properties be safe.”



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ST. CROIX — The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, met Tuesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix to receive testimony on several pieces of proposed legislations.

Bill No.32-0064 proposed by Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff calls for the amending of the Virgin Islands Code to provide a registry for elderly persons age 65 years old and over who live alone and keep track of their activities if they require health care or assistance.

Senator DeGraff said the intent of the Bill is to easily have access to our elderly in the event of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunami. He added that a registry as proposed is vital for the sake of first resonance.

Attorney Patricia Welcome speaking on behalf of Commissioner Felecia Blyden, Department of Human Services said the department does not support the Bill since such information as it pertains to the elderly already exists.

Todd Patton, Deputy Director for Planning and Preparedness, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) said as the coordinating agency it stands ready to support a registry developed and maintained by DHS.

According to Patton, VITEMA would be happy to store a backup copy of the registry in each of its Emergency Operations Centers, should the information be required of a natural disaster.

Troy de Chabert-Schuster, State Director, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) said AARP supports the legislation but is concerned about the confidentiality of this registry for the following reasons: (1) The individual’s right to privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1995 and the protection of our seniors from predators.

The Bill was held in Committee for amending purposes.

Bill No. 32-0100 sponsored by Senator Sammuel Sanes amends the Virgin Islands Code to require doctors and physicians to disclose any financial ownership or interest in any medical laboratory within or outside the Virgin Islands and from referring patients to a laboratory in which they have a financial interest.

Dr. Olivine Anne Treasure  said one of the disadvantages in passing the Bill is that it supports protectionism, which does not encourage any industry to innovate, modernize, respond, improve, or change its delivery system, It is unfair to those who do innovate and adapt and who generate income and services and provide alternatives for our diverging economy.

Other testifiers on Bill No.32-0100 were Sean Coutsey, Treasure, St. Croix Clinical Lab, and Dr. Arakere Bandigowda Prasad.

The Bill was held in committee until a future date when other pertinent testifiers are present such as the Commissioner of Health.

Bill No.32-0111, sponsored by Senator Sanes amends the Virgin Islands Code to establish September as Virgin Islands Prostrate Cancer Awareness Month and to require an annual proclamation by the Governor.

Committee members held a round of discussion on the Bill  and was then voted out of committee with a favorable recommendation to the Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Committee members at Tuesday’s meeting were: Chairwoman, Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Kurt Vialet Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Sammuel Sanes, Janette Millin Young, and Novelle Francis, Jr. and none-Committee members: Senators Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Positive T.A. Nelson.


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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services chaired by Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly met Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix where testimonies were given on several pieces of proposed legislations.

Bill No.32-0038 proposed by Senator Jean Forde seeks to amend the Virgin Islands Code and  to provide for the acceptance of the Real ID as a valid form of identification and to allow senior citizens to receive a discount on public buses, car registration, transportation services operating under a government grant of exclusive franchise and on any mode of public passenger transportation service subject to the jurisdiction of the public commission as well as for tuition reduction at the University of the Virgin Islands.

In his testimony, Anthony Olive, Director of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles along with Ethlyn Dewindt, MIS Administrator and Mireille Sankatsing-Smith, Systems Manager said that they are in the process of implementing the “Real ID,” and after having further discussion with their software developers, a slight modification can be done to the software which would allow them to do exactly what the intent of Bill No.32-0038 implies.

Troy De Chabert-Schuster, Director, AARP Virgin Islands, said his organization supports the Bill. He added that the proposed legislation is trying to limit the burden on seniors who want to take advantage of Government discounts. These discounts are substantial and are only bestowed upon individuals who happen to have their Senior Discount Card issued by Human Services with them at the time they seek the discount.

Other testifiers who supported Bill No.32-0038 were Debra Christopher, President, St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc., and Janet Turnbull-Krigger, Assistant Commissioner, Human Services. The Bill was voted out of the committee with a favorable recommendation to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0084 sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’Reilly amended the Virgin Code and extended the period the court may order the commitment of a person to the Department of Health from a period of not more than five days to a period up to 30 days for the purposes of a diagnostic examination.

Bill No 32-0085 also sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’ Reilly amended the Virgin Islands Code relating to mental health emergency commitments by extending the time period a person may be detained for treatment.

In his testimony on both Bill No.32-0084 and Bill No.32-0085 Joseph Ponteen, Chief Deputy Attorney General said the Department supports both measures; however, they still recommend that the committee standards be changed. According to him, a state cannot involuntarily hold an individual for longer than is necessary and for longer than what in statutorily allowed.

Ponteen pointed to the standard that a judge would consider. He said if the standards and criteria for commitment were slightly relaxed, then the judge would have more leeway in deciding whether or not the individual should be committed for the extended periods of time that are suggested in these proposed measures.

Michelle S. Davis, Commissioner of Health also speaking on both proposed measures said in regard to Bill No.32-0084, that after holding a person 30 days as the Bill suggest, this legislation does not address the outcomes of an individual struggling with a mental or substance abuse disorder requiring repeat visits for crisis mental health stabilization. She pointed out that the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center does not currently have an acute care unit for mental health patients or a behavioral health unit.

In respect to Bill No. 32-0085 she said the Department is in general support of mandating stabilization care, evaluation and treatment. They also support the maximum “emergency commitment” stay of 10-days. According to her, it is their firm beliefs that while some people may require a shorter timeframe for returning to a stabilized baseline of mental functionality, there are other individuals who may require a longer stay for stabilization.

“Mental problem is a serious matter in the territory and it is my responsibility to do something about it,” said Senator Rivera-O’Reilly.

Bill No.32-0079 also sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’Reilly seeks to amend the Virgin Islands Code relating to application for certificates of need to establish by statute initial and renewal application fees; mandating a report from the Commissioner of Health with recommendations for changes to the certificate of need process; and providing for a one-year suspension on issuances of Certificate of Need (CON).

Dr. Bernard Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC) pointed to two significant factors in regards to CON as proposed in Bill No.32-0079.

According to him, SRMC’s financial challenges are complex and competition from outpatient surgical centers and private health care facilities are one part of the picture. He added that one; CON laws if properly implemented and enforced can help to measure and define need, control costs, protect lower-cost centers from taking the highest-paying customers away from hospitals, and require that lower-cost centers provide charity care.

Secondly, added Dr. Wheatley, regardless of any changes to CON laws in the Virgin Islands, it is going to be very difficult for SRMC to increase its percentage of commercial business without significant investment in its infrastructure, resolution of its vender payment issues, and investment in staffing and marketing. Accordingly, if SRMC increases its percentage of commercial business, it will improve its operating margin which could reduce the level of funding required annually from the local government.

The Commissioner of Health Dr. Davis said the CON application fees have not changed since its original implication. The current application is $200 for service provision or $400 for facility development. She pointed out that while she support an increase, mandating a flat fee increase from the current fees to $2,000 may present an undue burden for some CON participants.

According to Dr. Davis, she would support efforts that would help determine a reasonable fee increase of a CON application fee based on the proposed services, facility type and overall projects costs. She added that she would also support efforts that would help determine a reasonable increase fee that factors in all patient variables.

Committee members voted in favor of both Bill No.32-0084 and Bill No.0085 and sent them to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration. Bill No.32-0079 was held in Committee subject to the call of the Chair.

Bill No.32-0048 sponsored by Senator Rivera-O’Reilly requires the board of the Juan E. Luis Hospital to solicit proposals for the selection of a third-party management or health care system to manage the hospital by May 30, 2017.

Aracelis Bermudez-Walcott said as the Board Chair of JFLH, she has reservation about public private partnership for the management operations of the hospital. There are many factors to consider. As the only hospital on the island, such a public private partnership must be vetted closely by all stakeholders to ensure that the benefits gained from this relationship will improve the confidence of the community in the hospital, support our physicians, build the existing workforce and provide additional services rather than limiting access to care.

Richard Evangelista, Acting Chief Executive Officer, JFLH said in his testimony, that at this time, hiring a management company is not the best way to spend the limited fiscal resources available to the Government of the Virgin Islands. Instead, he recommended collaboratively reviewing the three-year capital spending plan and earmarking the funds to make desperately needed capital improvements. He recommended the constructing of two new hospitals, one on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas.

Tracy Stewart Sanders, Continuum Care Hospice said that with the consideration of a third-party management relation, we have an opportunity to be afforded the introduction and adoption of Evidenced Based Practices and Best Practices.

Keith Moore of Barry University Physician Assistant, St. Croix said in his testimony, the proposed legislation has the potential to bring a fresh look to St. Croix health care in an efficient manner that considers all the major stakeholders in the health care system.

AARP State Director, De Chabert-Schuster said JFLH is currently in a state of crisis and while leadership is committed, there is a lack of experience in steering the hospital out of its crisis. According to him, when a hospital is in crisis, we need to look outside of our current executive team to bring in support and management that will assist in stabilizing the organization.

The Bill was held in the Committee subject to the call of the Chair.

Committee members at Monday’s meeting were Chairman Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Sammuel Sanes, and Janette Millin Young. Non-Committee member was Senator Brian Smith.