LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE TO COVID-19

Published: May 21, 2020

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services chaired by Sen. Oakland Benta convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building to receive testimony on the 9 SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19 and the mitigation efforts in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Guidelines.

Officials from the Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC), the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital, the Virgin Islands Department of Health, O’Neil Khosa, President of Bahamas Paradise Cruise, Dr. Corey Hebert, and the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services were among the testifiers who updated lawmakers on the preparedness and response to COVID-19. “This is a very informative meeting that allows for transparency and in-depth knowledge on handling the COVID-19 Pandemic plaguing the Territory,” said Sen. Benta.

Thus far, SRMC has adequate COVID-19 test kits, Personal Protective Equipment for staff, medication, and COVID-19 supplies that can be administered to individuals by appointment only. To date, there are a total of ten Covidien 840 vents, two Hamilton HT-50 vents, 80 GO2Vents, or single patient use vents, and fifteen LTV 1200 vents that are available for patient use; according to SRMC Interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Luis Amaro. Furthermore, the implementation of the COVID-19 Safety and Preparedness Protocol is critical for the preparation of handling the pandemic. Dr. Amaro noted that the measures include providing education and training to staff, conducting Emergency Department COVID-19 Screenings, setting up a Fast Track Unit, expanding patient bed capacity by fifty percent and purchasing several oxygen generators. A COVID-19 Call Center is also open to the public. Separately, in lieu of the pandemic, Khosa offered to convert the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Ship that has a passenger capacity of 1500 and 700 rooms into a floating hotel. Similarly, Dr. Hebert offered to build two multifaceted hospitals that will be located on St. Thomas and St. Croix and one clinic on St. John.

The V.I. Department of Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion mentioned that as a result of collaborating with partners Territory-wide and regionally, the VIDOH Pandemic Plan was updated. Moreover, as of January 2020 an Emergency Operations Council was formed in which daily meetings are held with officials from VITEMA. Encarnacion also noted that to ensure adequate supplies, to verify isolation capacity, and morgue capacity, VIDOH meets daily with FEMA, VING, VITEMA, and the Department of Justice. Sen. Janelle Sarauw inquired about services offered to the mental health population who are on the street especially since telemedicine is inaccessible to them. In response, Encarnacion mentioned that it is challenging to meet the needs of everyone in that population. However, VIDOH has case managers who are assigned to those clients. Senate President Novelle Francis stated that the territory has a unique opportunity to assist and address mental health issues.

The V.I. Department of Human Services Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez indicated that the Department implemented the COVID-19 Teleworking Plan, reduced office hours, adjusted work schedules, and had electronic applications for all their programs. Through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act the Office of Child Care received $3,370,051. The monies must be expended from April 2020 to September 2023; according to Causey-Gomez Additionally, the Senior Citizens Affairs programs were awarded a total of $2,600,000 from the Administration for Community Living for the Families First Coronavirus Response, CARES Act Nutrition Services and services assisting homemakers, caregivers, and seniors.

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