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Innovative Health Staffing Bill Advances for Virgin Islands Schools

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In a crucial step to bolster healthcare in public schools, the Virgin Islands Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services has unanimously approved a significant bill. Bill No. 35-0194, championed by Senator Kenneth Gittens, seeks to appoint school health technicians in every public school, an initiative crucial for the welfare of students. These technicians will effectively fill the roles typically held by school nurses.

Highlighting a critical gap in the current system, Senator Gittens emphasized the challenge in hiring and retaining registered nurses for schools, citing competitive salaries elsewhere as a key factor. This situation has resulted in a significant shortfall in medical care in schools, with students left without basic medical services like medication administration and first aid.

The issue is pressing, as evidenced by nine current vacancies for school nurses across the territory’s two school districts. This challenge was further underscored by recent resignations of school nurses for better-paying opportunities.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion lauded the bill as timely. Commissioner Encarnacion stressed the importance of having certified school health technicians, especially in the absence of registered nurses. The Department of Health, instrumental in drafting Bill No. 35-0194, believes the benefits of this approach are manifold.

Echoing this support, Deputy Commissioner of Education Victor Somme III linked healthcare directly to student success. He pointed out the Department of Education’s struggle to match the salaries offered by hospitals and private medical entities, making it challenging to attract and retain skilled school nurses.

The proposed bill outlines that the Education Commissioner will appoint a qualified school nurse supervisor in each district to oversee the health technicians. These supervisors would be highly qualified professionals – registered nurses, physician’s assistants, or physicians. The health technicians, potentially LPNs, CNAs, or EMTs, will be subject to clearly defined job descriptions and standard operating procedures, including telehealth provisions, all requiring approval from the Health Commissioner.

While the bill received widespread support, legislators raised questions regarding the attraction of qualified candidates, liability issues, and the efficacy of telehealth services. Currently, school nurses earn a starting salary akin to teachers, around $49,000, as per the American Federation of Teachers’ collective bargaining agreement. Deputy Commissioner Somme assured that salary negotiations are underway, with adjustments contingent on government affordability.

With strong committee endorsement, the bill is now poised for deliberation and potential passage by the full legislative body, marking a significant step towards enhancing healthcare in Virgin Islands schools.

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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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