Published: Oct 4, 2023

ST. CROIX – The 35th Legislature’s Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Ray Fonseca, convened a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Room. Senators voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 35-0119- An Act amending Title 19 Virgin Islands Code by adding a chapter 7A directing the Virgin Islands Department of Health to develop and approve mobile integrated healthcare programs (MIH). The approved item will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. Separately, lawmakers were updated on the status of kidney dialysis treatment in the Virgin Islands.

The measure seeks for VIDOH to provide the criteria to establish various models of the MIH program. The bill establishes the Mobile Integrated Healthcare Revolving Fund and requires the funds in that fund to be used solely for the Department of Health’s mobile integrated healthcare program. Finally, the bill mandates that the Commissioner of Health promulgate regulations to administer the chapter, as stated in the bill. The sponsor of the measure, Senator Marise James, added that the bill also aims to provide quality and cost-effective care without patients making a trip to the hospital. Furthermore, the legislation provides the opportunity to reduce emergency visits, improve the healthcare system, and enhance efficiency in the emergency response system. Senator Fonseca stated that he supports the bill because it advances healthcare in the Territory.

To date, the MIH initiative has enrolled 1,892 patients in St. Croix. There are 89 patients who are receiving weekly services; out of those, six are court-appointed via the Superior Court and the Department of Human Services Adult Protection Services. A total of 16 referrals are pending. Department of Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion noted that the treatment plans align with the patient’s plan of care, specifically chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary lung disease, and congestive heart failure. Presently, the Mobile Integrated Healthcare Program is only available in the St. Croix District because additional funding is required to expand to the St. Thomas-St. John District. Schneider Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Tina M. Comissiong expressed the advantages of the Mobile Integrated Healthcare Program. Comissiong noted that expanding access to preventative and primary care will positively impact the overall healthcare system of the territory. It will help people get seen and screened earlier, so they do not present to the hospital in an advanced state of their disease.

Separately, Dr. Walter Rohloff from the Kidney Center delivered a comprehensive testimony on the At Home Dialysis Program, acute kidney failure, hypertension, renal transplantation, chronic kidney disease, and kidney stones. Presently, approximately 250 Virgin Islanders require chronic outpatient dialysis to survive due to persistent kidney failure. An estimated forty additional patients are unable to return to the US Virgin Islands due to a scarcity of suitable outpatient dialysis chairs. Moreover, Dr. Rohloff cautioned that the demand for dialysis chairs in the US Virgin Islands will continue to rise due to the rising prevalence of end-stage kidney disease. Financial deficits caused by inadequate reimbursement rates and dwindling insurance coverage will necessitate larger and more frequent bailouts of privately and publicly owned facilities while failing to meet the needs of the ESKD patient population.

Senators present at the committee hearing included Ray Fonseca, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marice C. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Diane T. Capehart, Javan James, Milton E. Potter, Samuel Carrión, and Kenneth L. Gittens.            

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