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ST. CROIX- The Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet held a budget hearing on Tuesday in University of the Virgin Islands Great Hall. Testifying before the Committee members were the Frederiksted Health Care, Inc., (FHC) and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs(DLC).
Masserae Sprauve Webster, Chief Executive Director FHC received decreases from the local allotment. In FY 2017, FHC did not receive $185,425.00 of their allotment fund. According to her FHC receive 12.5% cut which amounted to $286,740. This represents a loss of $472,165., which in her estimation resulted in the inability to fully respond to health care needs of the community.
Webster said FHC is requesting a local funding allotment for FY2019 in the amount of $2,640, oo0. To keep up with rising costs, respond to increasing demand for their services and to assist with the delivery of care to their vulnerable patients.
She pointed certain notable items that FHC provided to the community such as; (1) provided services to 8,634 patients and had 25,052 encounters in 2015; provided services to 9,551 patients and had 28,432 encounters in 2016; provided services to 9,914 patients and had 29,562 encounters in 2017; and expects to service 30,000 encounters in 2018 and 33,000 encounters in 2019.
Committee members praised and commended FHC for their commitment and dedicated services to the community by providing such services as (1) providing care to 180 homeless individuals and have housed 40 them in permanent housing; (2) since Hurricane Maria, began offering services on Saturdays at the Ingeborg Nesbitt site and continues to offer each Saturday from 9a.m. to 2p.m; in January 2018 acquired an additional satellite site in Mid-island located at Sion farm commercial center; and on March 23 and 24 2018 expand dental care to meet the needs of the community because FHC continues to be the only public dental provider.
Webster told Committee Members that their outreach efforts have become more focused on critical at-risk populations, and as a result, they have had several people who were newly diagnosed as HIV positive. They know, she added that the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to hit the island hard, and they remain dedicated to addressing the prevention strategies that are necessary by working with young people and adults to be more responsible with their sexual health.
In respect to the homeless, Webster stated that FGC provides medical, dental and behavioral services to homeless individuals; meals, baths, clothing, shoes, and haircuts are offered to those who attend. Furthermore, each clinic has served about 35 homeless individuals and each month about 25 are follow-up patients and usually, they serve 10 new patients.
According to her FHC has partnered with several business owners to make condoms accessible. They have 80 condom dispensers in 60 sites and distributed over 125,000 condoms to local bars and restaurants each year. Webster said FHC has sought and continue to seek additional funding through grant applications as they become available. Other testifiers for FHC were Jacquelyn Rhymer-George, Chief Financial Officer and Stanley Jones, FHC’s Board Treasurer.
Devin Carrington, Commissioner, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLC) said Appropriation from the General Fund for 2017 Expenditure was $3,228,734 and that appropriation recommended for 2018 and 2019 respectively were $3,831,510 and 3,473,276. This he added, came to a reduction of approximately $358,234.
According to the Commissioner, most recently, DLC collected a substantial fine from K-Mart Corporation pertaining to price labeling. They also settled a case of price gouging at the Pueblo Supermarkets in St. Croix and St. Thomas where customers charged prices for batteries that were more than the submitted price list. Furthermore, they are in the process of revoking the license of a charter boat operator that charged excessive prices for services between St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Carrington added that DLC is moving ahead with its plan for the rehabilitation of the Vendors Plaza in downtown Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and is implementing its plan to provide more robust staffing in St. John.
Other testifiers for DLC were Frederick, General Counsel, Horace Graham, Director Division of license, Joycelyn McFarlande Manager; Administrative Services, Nathalie Hodge, Assistant Commissioner, Ann O’Neil District Counsel, and K’wanda Daniels, Executive Officer to the Commissioner.
Committee members at Tuesday’s budget hearing were Chairman Senator Kurt A. Vialet, Neville A. James, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Brian A. Smith, Tregenza A. Roach, Marvin A. Blyden, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Non-Committee Members were Senators, Positive T.A. Nelson, and Janelle K. Sarauw.