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University of the Virgin Islands Launches Construction of Innovative Nursing School at St. Croix Campus

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A groundbreaking ceremony marked a historic moment at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus, where a new nursing school is set to be established. The event saw University President Dr. David Hall and key figures from the executive and legislative branches, as well as UVI faculty and staff, gather to celebrate this pivotal advancement in nursing education within the territory.

Dr. Hall highlighted the critical role of federal legislation in alleviating the debt of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which facilitated financial freedom for UVI. This fiscal liberation allowed for reinvestment in the university, with the nursing school project being a prime example. He emphasized the collaborative effort between various government levels and non-government entities in making this project a reality.

Positioned adjacent to UVI’s state-of-the-art medical simulation center, the nursing school aims to foster an integrated training environment for medical and nursing students. Dr. Hall envisions a future where healthcare professionals are trained in collaborative teams to deliver optimal patient care.

The project’s swift initiation, driven by the enthusiasm of architect Renee D’Adamo and contractor D. S. & R Construction, LLC, reflects the commitment of all stakeholders. With an 18-month timeline, the groundbreaking event was a testament to the urgency and importance of this educational facility.

V.I. Department of Health’s Justa Encarnacion, an alumna of UVI, expressed her delight at the project’s commencement. Her message to nursing students emphasized the broad scope of opportunities in nursing, citing her own career trajectory as an example. The new facility is anticipated to enhance UVI’s already robust nursing education, nurturing future generations of skilled nursing professionals.

Former senator Kurt Vialet commended the territory’s nursing students for their consistent excellence, particularly in licensing examinations. He believes that the new nursing school in St. Croix will further strengthen the nursing workforce, contributing significantly to the improvement of healthcare delivery on the island.

Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach connected the new nursing school to the broader healthcare transformation across the territory. He referenced recent developments like the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute and the Cardiac Center at Juan F Luis hospital, expressing optimism that these advancements, along with the nursing school, will substantially address the healthcare needs of the Virgin Islands and neighboring regions in the Caribbean.

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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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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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WAPA Chief Criticizes Lawsuit as Hazardous to Utility’s Financial Stability

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Andrew Smith, the CEO of the Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority (WAPA), has recently voiced his concern regarding a class action lawsuit filed against the utility. This lawsuit, centered around allegations of heavy metal contamination in St. Croix’s water system, has been characterized by Smith as an opportunistic move during a challenging period for the community.

Mr. Smith, reaffirming the Authority’s dedication to resolving the water quality issue, expressed his disappointment over the lawsuit’s intent, which he perceives as a financial exploit of St. Croix’s ongoing water situation. He emphasized the Authority’s commitment to the wellbeing of St. Croix’s residents.

The class action, spearheaded by Xiomara Torres and other St. Croix residents, raises serious concerns about the presence of lead and copper in the drinking water, alleging a considerable health threat. The lawsuit, filed by Lee Rohn and Associates, accuses WAPA and Seven Seas Water Solutions USA LLC of negligence and gross negligence.

The situation escalated on October 14, 2023, when WAPA issued a contamination notice. This prompted cautionary advisories from the V.I. Dept. of Health and Governor Albert Bryan Jr., impacting numerous residents with recommendations against water consumption.

In defense of WAPA, Mr. Smith highlighted the utility’s immediate and comprehensive response, including the Clean Water Action initiative, a testament to their commitment to customer safety and transparent communication.

The lawsuit details various alleged shortcomings of WAPA in upkeeping a reliable drinking water system, such as discolored and odorous water and frequent leaks. The plaintiffs are seeking both injunctive and monetary relief for a range of damages, including economic loss, property damage, personal injury, and the establishment of a medical monitoring program.

However, these claims have recently been called into question. Marc Edwards, a water expert from Virginia Tech, has raised doubts about the legitimacy of the toxicity levels reported, pointing to potentially flawed sampling methods. In a reassuring update, Governor Bryan announced new EPA test results indicating that the levels of lead and copper are significantly below actionable standards, with many samples showing no detectable contamination, challenging the initial alarming findings.

Attorney Lee Rohn, representing the plaintiffs, remains hopeful for a favorable outcome that prioritizes the health and safety of St. Croix’s residents. The law firm’s statement underscores their aim to ensure clean drinking water is provided at the expense of the responsible entities, not the taxpayers or ratepayers.

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