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Class Action Lawsuit Targets WAPA over Alleged Water Contamination in St. Croix

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A major class action lawsuit has been initiated against the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) and Seven Seas Water Solutions USA LLC, centering on allegations of lead and copper contamination in St. Croix’s drinking water. This legal action, led by St. Croix residents including Xiomara Torres, represents both individual and collective concerns. The suit, filed by Lee Rohn and Associates, highlights disturbing water testing results: more than 50% of the samples displayed dangerously high levels of lead and copper, indicating a serious threat to public health.

Key Events Leading to the Legal Challenge:

  • October 14, 2023: WAPA informs the public about the water contamination.
  • October 27, 2023: Subsequent testing continues to show contamination, despite efforts to clean the water system.
  • Public Health Measures: Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and the Virgin Islands Department of Health recommend against using the contaminated water, impacting countless residents.

The lawsuit accuses WAPA and Seven Seas of negligence and gross negligence, citing their failure to ensure a reliable and safe water supply. It highlights a series of WAPA’s operational failures, including issues with discolored, foul-smelling water and frequent leaks. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) involvement in September 2023 confirmed the severity of the situation, leading to the current legal action.

The plaintiffs demand both injunctive and monetary compensation for the economic and health repercussions, including property damage, personal injuries, and the need for medical monitoring.

WAPA’s guidance to residents to flush their systems and use filters is criticized for shifting the responsibility of remediation to consumers. The government has declared a local state of emergency and sought federal aid in response.

However, the lawsuit’s validity is challenged by recent EPA retesting, which disputes the initial findings. Water expert Marc Edwards pointed out flaws in the original testing methodology, suggesting the high contamination levels were a result of improper sampling methods. The EPA’s comprehensive tests in November showed significantly lower levels of lead and copper, contradicting the initial alarming reports.

Governor Bryan’s announcement following these tests indicates that the water system might not be as compromised as initially believed. This new evidence suggests the elevated readings resulted from deviations in testing protocols.

Attorney Lee Rohn acknowledges the lawsuit’s early stage and the nature of the allegations, emphasizing a desire for a swift and fair resolution. The law firm anticipates constructive discussions with the defendants to address these concerns effectively and in the best interest of St. Croix’s citizens.

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Rotary Club of St. Croix Launches Initiative to Boost Youth Mental Health through Scholarships

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The Rotary Club of St. Croix Harborside, under the leadership of President Sandra Gerard Leung, has taken a monumental step forward in enhancing mental health care for the youth by offering twenty scholarships for Pediatric Primary Care Practitioners (PPCPs). These scholarships are dedicated to funding specialized training at the prestigious Boston Children’s Hospital, focusing on the course titled “Building Bridges of Understanding: Behavioral Health Education for Pediatric Primary Care.”

President Gerard Leung elaborated on the course’s goals, stating it is meticulously crafted to provide an in-depth understanding of how to identify, assess, and manage common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder within primary care environments. The ultimate objective of this initiative is to empower PPCPs with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively recognize and diagnose mental health conditions in children and adolescents.

This initiative is supported through a grant awarded by the 2023 District 7020 Conference Committee and represents a collaborative effort with the Mental Health Initiatives Rotary Action Group and the Rotary Club of Naples, Florida, aiming to foster better health outcomes within the community.

Bob Anthony, the chair of the Mental Health Initiatives Rotary Action Group, underscored the significant impact this training could have, with the potential for each trained PPCP to positively affect the care of over a thousand youths each year. The comprehensive training and the resources provided, such as toolkits, are designed to assist both parents and practitioners in managing and addressing common mental health symptoms more swiftly and effectively.

Dr. Salvatore Anzalone, the Pediatric Medical Director at Healthcare Network, who has championed similar initiatives in Florida, praised the program for its potential to enable non-psychiatrist medical professionals to provide competent mental health care. Dr. Anzalone highlighted the critical importance of early intervention, noting, “It’s satisfying knowing that if not for your efforts, that child would not have gotten care.”

Addressing a disturbing statistic that, on average, it takes ten years from the first appearance of symptoms until a diagnosis of mental illness is made in children—with only half receiving a diagnosis—the Rotary Harborside’s initiative aims to drastically cut down this delay.

For those interested in learning more about this transformative initiative, please contact 340-771-4420 or send an email to [email protected].

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USDA Celebrates 50 Years of the WIC Program in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lauds Local Efforts

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recently marked a significant milestone in the U.S. Virgin Islands, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. This notable occasion brought FNS officials to the territory to pay tribute to the dedication of local program providers, leaders, and beneficiaries who have contributed to the program’s success.

Leading the anniversary celebrations, Lizbeth Silbermann, FNS Northeast Regional Administrator, praised the substantial impact of the WIC program on the nutrition and well-being of Virgin Islanders. During her visit on February 16th, Silbermann expressed her admiration for the Virgin Islands Department of Health’s effective use of federal funds in renovating the WIC facility in Frederiksted. Highlighting the importance of a human-centered approach, she noted, “This building is a testament to focusing on the client experience within the WIC program, embodying human-centered design at its best.”

The ceremony acknowledged the long-serving WIC employees Gloria Carlos and Hilaria Duval, who have been with the program since its inception in 1974, as well as Linota Perez, a 44-year veteran. Silbermann celebrated their unwavering dedication to serving Virgin Islands families, emphasizing the program’s vital role in supporting the health and nutrition of mothers and children. “The legacy of the WIC program is enriched by its profound impact on the well-being of mothers and their children, ensuring a healthier future for them,” Silbermann reflected.

Justa Encarnacion, Commissioner of the Department of Health, echoed the sentiment that children are the cornerstone of the WIC program, stating, “The focus is always on the baby, which naturally extends to the entire family, reinforcing the bond through the joy of a new addition.”

The renovation of the Frederiksted WIC building, a project unfolding in two phases, is on track for completion in six months. Encarnacion reassured that all necessary measures for safety and security are being meticulously planned and implemented.

The FNS, a pivotal component of the USDA, is committed to ensuring that children and families in need across a broad spectrum from Massachusetts to the U.S. Virgin Islands, have access to food and lead healthier lives. The agency administers a variety of nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and child nutrition initiatives like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, in addition to the WIC program.

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U.S. Virgin Islands Welcomes New Health Insurance Options, Thanks to Lt. Governor’s Efforts

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The U.S. Virgin Islands has taken a significant leap forward in healthcare accessibility, as Lieutenant Governor Tregenza A. Roach, in his dual role as Commissioner of Insurance, proudly announces the introduction of individual health insurance options. This initiative, heralded by Optimum Global Insurance Company (OGIC), fills a crucial gap in the healthcare landscape of the territory, promising a new era of medical security for its residents.

This groundbreaking development follows an exhaustive evaluation by the Division of Banking, Insurance, and Financial Regulation, culminating in the official licensing of OGIC to provide individual health insurance. The announcement, made during a May 2023 press conference by the Lieutenant Governor’s office, marks a watershed moment for healthcare availability in the region.

OGIC emerges as a beacon of hope, offering much-needed insurance solutions covering medical expenses, travel, life, and personal accident risks. In a strategic partnership with AXA PPP Healthcare Limited, a stalwart with an A+ (Superior) rating from AM Best, OGIC ensures robust financial backing for its policies, with AXA shouldering all financial risks.

Lieutenant Governor Roach underscored the critical importance of this initiative, particularly in light of the Affordable Care Act’s exclusion of U.S. Territories, which has left a significant portion of the population uninsured. “Addressing this gap and enticing insurers to offer individual products in the territory is a top priority,” Roach emphasized, highlighting his commitment to the health and well-being of Virgin Islanders.

OGIC’s product line, including Essential, Standard, and Superior plans, caters to a broad spectrum of healthcare needs from hospitalization and emergency care to outpatient services, with options for maternity and dental coverage. These plans extend across the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, other U.S. territories, the U.S. mainland, and even globally, ensuring comprehensive coverage for residents.

While pricing details remain to be discussed, individuals interested in exploring OGIC’s offerings can reach out to Joe Brugos at 340-774-2323 or via email at [email protected]. For inquiries about OGIC’s licensing or the operations of any insurer in the territory, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Division of Banking, Insurance & Financial Regulation stands ready to assist in both the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix Districts.

This initiative not only demonstrates the Lieutenant Governor’s dedication to improving healthcare access but also represents a significant step towards ensuring that all residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands have the health insurance coverage they deserve.

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