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Howard University and U.S. Virgin Islands Embark on Pioneering Health Tech Ventures

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In a significant collaborative endeavor, the Howard University College of Pharmacy (HUCOP) and Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s Office of Health Information Technology (OHIT) have unveiled two innovative health technology initiatives: the Public Health Informatics & Technology program for the US Virgin Islands (PHIT4VI), focusing on workforce training, and the Digital Research Initiative.

These initiatives mark a concerted effort to enhance public health informatics, health information, and telehealth services, bridging the gap between academic expertise and governmental action.

Spearheaded by Howard University Provost Anthony Wutoh and Dean Ranti Akiyode of HUCOP, along with Zane Networks LLC, a Washington D.C.-based company specializing in health transformation, these projects have been successfully initiated. Pivotal to their inception are Dr. Mary K. Awuonda, Dr. Pamela Carter-Nolan, and Dr. John Kwagyan, who have worked closely with USVI government agencies and Schneider Regional Medical Center.

OHIT, established in 2021, aims to revolutionize health and wellness in the USVI through cutting-edge health information technology. The two flagship initiatives encompass:

  1. Workforce Training Initiative (PHIT4VI Program): This program is uniquely tailored for the USVI, offering an exchange program for students and professionals from the Virgin Islands to engage in public health informatics and training at Howard University. The program includes elective courses, bootcamps, and workshops. Its inaugural cohort consists of eight individuals delving into public health informatics, health IT systems, and practical training on electronic health record and health information exchange data systems.
  2. Digital Research Initiative: This initiative focuses on collaborative telehealth research. Operated through HUCOP’s Telepharmacy and Population Health Center (HUTEPH) and led by Dr. Mary K. Awuonda, it was launched in April 2023. The initiative aims to establish a telehealth-supported, pharmacist-led care program and to improve the medication management program at the Schneider Regional Medical Center in St. Thomas.

Dean Akiyode emphasized the congruence of these initiatives with HUCOP’s strategic vision and expansion plans in research and training beyond mainland U.S. Michelle Francis, Director of OHIT, shared her excitement about these projects, noting their alignment with Governor Bryan’s vision of an integrated healthcare system. She highlighted the significant impact these efforts will have on health outcomes, workforce development, and the economy in the Virgin Islands.

These partnerships symbolize a long-term strategy to bolster training and research collaborations between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Howard University College of Pharmacy.

For further details on OHIT, please visit www.ohitusvi.com. Howard University, established in 1867, continues to uphold its tradition as a premier research university dedicated to serving the African American community and the broader global populace.

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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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