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St. Croix Initiates Water Voucher Program to Aid Residents During Lead and Copper Emergency



Bottled water outside a supermarket in the town of Thausud in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Tap water throughout Thailand is not suitable for drinking but bottled water is available everywhere.

In a proactive response to the lead and copper water crisis on St. Croix, the Virgin Islands government has unveiled a comprehensive water voucher initiative, aimed at supporting residents in the impacted areas. This initiative, backed by a legislative act sponsored by Sen. Novelle Francis, dedicates $350,000 to supply bottled water to those affected. The vouchers, functioning as redeemable coupons for water at selected businesses, will be available for 90 days, starting from November 18.

The coordination of this significant effort involves multiple government agencies including VITEMA, the V.I. Departments of Health, WAPA, Planning and Natural Resources, and Human Services, as well as the VI National Guard and the V.I. Police Department. This collaboration was detailed in a recent announcement from WAPA.

For streamlined distribution, residents in the affected areas are encouraged to pre-register for the coupons at This pre-registration, opening Thursday afternoon, is designed to minimize wait times at distribution centers. Additionally, walk-up registration is available, requiring personal identification and a WAPA water account number.

In an efficient move, residents of Aureo Diaz Heights, Candido Guadalupe, and Williams Delight will receive direct instructions from their housing managers regarding voucher acquisition, eliminating the need for them to visit the general distribution centers.

The Department of Human Services is set to directly deliver water to participants in the “Meals on Wheels” program, and those on its waiting list. Residents unable to visit the distribution centers this weekend should stay updated through media for future distribution schedules.

The designated distribution locations, equipped with clear signage, include:

  1. Midre Cummings Park’s adjacent parking lot in Frederiksted (drive-thru), servicing areas such as La Grange, Smithfield, and Hannah’s Rest.
  2. Agricultural Fairgrounds, Estate Lower Love (walk-up), catering to neighborhoods like Grove Place, Paradise, and Castle Burke.
  3. John H. Woodson Junior High School (drive-thru), for residents in areas like Colquohoun and Sion Farm.

Coupon redemption centers across St. Croix include The Market, Plaza East, Pueblo locations, and Blue Mountain Water.

For health concerns related to lead in water, residents can contact the Department of Health at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. Queries regarding water sampling can be addressed to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources at 340-514-3666. These hotlines are operational from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Governor Bryan Pushes for Urgent Legislation to Address Medicaid Fund Shortfall



Governor Albert Bryan announced on Monday that the territory has exhausted its funds for the local Medicaid match, prompting Government House to submit draft legislation to the Senate seeking an additional $3 million for this purpose.

Despite the fiscal shortfall, Governor Bryan views the situation as a sign of increased healthcare access. “We’re having so many people access care,” he stated, highlighting that during the pandemic, nearly 40,000 individuals utilized Medicaid for services including braces, dental care, and various medical appointments. Furthermore, eased referral requirements have facilitated access to specialty care. “Before, you had to go to East End or Frederiksted Health Center for a referral; now, a regular doctor can refer you,” Bryan explained.

These expanded services and simplified processes have rapidly depleted the Medicaid matching funds. However, Governor Bryan does not foresee this as a recurring issue, predicting stabilization next year. He noted that the V.I. Department of Human Services has already reduced some services, which has led to a decrease in Medicaid enrollment.

The proposed $3 million allocation remains critical for Virgin Islanders. Governor Bryan emphasized its importance, pointing to the recent U.S. Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Program health fair, where medics served over 2,500 people seeking no-cost healthcare services. Although 6,000 people applied, many were turned away due to limited resources. The governor stressed that healthcare costs for uninsured residents ultimately fall on the territory, whether through Medicaid or hospital services.

The effort to secure adequate Medicaid funding is ongoing. In 2019, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett successfully obtained an additional $252 million for the territory in a fiscal year 2020 spending bill, raising the federal match from 55% to 83%. This increased match rate, initially set to expire in 2021, has been made permanent, ensuring the territory receives the highest possible Medicaid match in the U.S.

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Measles Outbreaks Prompt Vaccination Drive in U.S. Virgin Islands



As measles outbreaks rise across the United States and the Caribbean, U.S. Virgin Islands Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion is urging parents to prioritize their children’s vaccination schedules.

Commissioner Encarnacion voiced her concerns this week about the alarmingly low vaccination rates among children in the territory, emphasizing the imminent threat of measles. “We are very concerned about the low childhood vaccine rate in the Territory, especially with measles threatening the US,” she said. Currently, only 60 percent of USVI children are vaccinated, a situation worsened by an increasing number of parents seeking vaccination exemptions.

The urgency is underscored by the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, which reports weekly on measles outbreaks. As of June 6, 2024, there have been 151 measles cases across 22 jurisdictions, including Arizona, California, Florida, and New York, with over half resulting in hospitalizations.

The infectiousness of measles is a significant concern for the V.I. Department of Health. “While 151 may seem like a low number, it is alarming because one person can infect nine to ten others,” Encarnacion explained. She also highlighted the risk of the disease spreading to the USVI and neighboring regions, noting that the Turks and Caicos Islands reported their first measles cases since 1991 this past May.

In response, the Department of Health launched the “Be Wise, Immunize” campaign earlier this year. This initiative aims to educate parents about the vital importance of vaccinations, stressing that immunization is the best defense against diseases like measles both in childhood and later in life.

The primary defense against measles is the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which provides long-lasting protection against all strains of the virus. Measles can lead to severe health complications, particularly in children under five, including pneumonia and encephalitis.

Measles is highly contagious, spreading through the air via coughs or sneezes from infected individuals. It remains active in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours. Symptoms typically appear seven to 14 days after exposure and include high fever, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes, and a characteristic rash.

Although declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, measles continues to persist globally and is often brought into the U.S. by unvaccinated travelers.

The VI Department of Health is urging parents to ensure their children are vaccinated and provides resources for scheduling immunization appointments at

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Douglas Koch to Lead Kearney Regional Medical Center in Nebraska



Just a day after announcing his resignation from the Juan F. Luis Hospital (JFL) on St. Croix, CEO Douglas Koch has been named the new CEO of Kearney Regional Medical Center in Nebraska. He will assume his new role on August 5, according to a report from KSNB Local 4.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Koch cited a desire to return to the Midwest to be closer to his family. His departure has been a significant loss for local health officials, with JFL Board Chair Chris Finch expressing disappointment. Mr. Finch, who also chairs the Territorial Hospital Board of Directors, highlighted Mr. Koch’s exemplary service, noting that he had recently received an excellent personnel evaluation from board members.

Koch’s new role in Nebraska is eagerly anticipated by his future colleagues. John Woodrich, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Bryan Health, which owns Kearney Regional, praised Koch’s midwestern roots, education, and extensive operational experience as ideal for the position. “Doug’s commitment to community health and his leadership skills will be a tremendous asset to Kearney Regional Medical Center,” said Woodrich.

Before his tenure in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Koch held leadership positions in South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. At Kearney Regional, he will oversee the expansion of inpatient facilities and the construction of a cancer center, similar to his work with JFL’s transition to a temporary modular structure. Woodrich emphasized Koch’s ability to help communities thrive, stating, “He will be an outstanding leader for Kearney Regional Medical Center.”

As Mr. Koch prepares to embark on his new journey, JFL officials now face the task of finding a new CEO to lead the hospital forward.

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