ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Senator Milton E. Potter convened in a meeting at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. All approved nominees and bills will be forwarded to the full body and will be voted upon at the next Legislative Session.
In Block 1, the Committee considered the nominations of Dr. Learie Lindsay to the VI Board of Medical Examiners and Dr. William DeLeone to the UVI Research and Technology Park Board of Directors. Both nominees were favorably considered.
In Block 2, the Committee considered the nomination of Gerson Martinez to the VI Aquaculture and Mariculture Commission. The nomination was favorably considered.
The nominations of Dale Brown and Carl “Carlos” Tesitor, Jr. to the VI Conservation District were also considered. Both nominations were favorably considered.
In Block 3, the Committee considered Bill No. 34-0243, an act amending Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 4, section 193 to change the composition of the Board of Naturopathic Physicians. The measure was sponsored by Senator Genevieve R. Whitaker. In addition, the Committee considered Bill No. 34-0244, an act amending Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 4, section n 191(a) and (d) to expand and clarify the definition of naturopathic medicine and the physical modalities used in the practice of naturopathy. The measure was sponsored by Senators Genevieve R. Whitaker and Marvin A. Blyden. Bill No. 34-0243 was held in Committee at the call of the chair. However, Bill No. 34-0244 was voted upon favorably.
Justa Encarnacion, the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Health delivered testimony for Bill No. 34-0244. The Department of Health promotes the prevention and management of diseases using evidence-based methods; however, it was mentioned that all proposed modalities should be regulated with careful board oversight. Additionally, it was recommended that the amendment should allow the use of therapeutic substances recognized by the Council of Naturopathic Medical Education. Community members that use the expanded naturopathic services need to understand the importance of reviewing their alternative treatment plan with their primary care provider to ensure their safety, and to prevent harm. The Department of Health supported the expansion of naturopathic medicine services in the territory but recommended that the bill be returned to the Committee of Health, Hospitals and Human Services for reconsideration and thorough vetting with members of the Board of Medicine and Pharmacy.
Encarnacion, in testimony for Bill No. 34-0243 said that the Virgin Islands Board of Naturopathic Physicians was not active. Naturopathic Physicians can apply for a business license from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. The Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, in turn requires clearance from the Department of Health for naturopathic physicians to practice. The Department of Health’s Office of Professional Licensure and Health Planning processes Naturopathic Physicians applications based on the requirements outlined in the Virgin Islands Code, Title 27, Chapter 4, and other standard requirements consistent with all health professional boards operating under the Department of Health’s umbrella. Naturopaths were granted conditional clearance until a board was appointed. In the proposed measure, the following changes were suggested; changing the current physician member to a physician member practicing integrative medicine; the removal of the pharmacist member, and the addition of a member of the community who is versed in herbal and natural remedies by training and experience. Act 8592 gives the VI Board of Medical Examiners the authority to serve as de facto board members to establish quorum when needed to ensure compliance with licensing and regulatory matters. Naturopathic physicians will be vetted through the VI Board of Medical Examiners until the board is appointed. There are currently three naturopathic physicians cleared for practice in the territory, two in the St. Thomas-St John District and one in the St. Croix District.
Dr. Wendy Coram-Vialet, a Naturopathic Physician delivered testimony on behalf of Bill No. 34-0243 and 34-0244. According to testimony delivered by Coram-Vialet, states and territories that license naturopathic physicians allow the health care consumer access to physician level, safe and effective evidence-based health care. These boards set standards for education of naturopathic doctors and provide title protection for those licensed practitioners trained at institutions accredited by the Council of Naturopathic Medical Education. Benefits of naturopathic licensing include mitigation of primary care shortages, reduced cost of health care and effective therapies, availability of integrative partnerships, and increase access to integrative health care. Vialet-Coram supported the measures but recommended that the purity of the definition of Naturopathic Medicine be maintained. When Coram-Vialet returned to the territory in 2001, the Board of Medical Examiners had not developed rules and regulations for naturopathic physicians since 1974. The current act made provisions for the governor to make the initial appointment of members to the board with advice and consent of the legislature within 60 days after its effective date. However, it has yet to be fully realized.
Dr. Chelsea Leander, a Naturopathic Doctor in St. Croix delivered testimony on behalf of Bill No. 34-0243 and 34-0244. Dr. Leander, who is the only practicing naturopathic doctor in St. Croix, mentioned that there has been a rapid interest for naturopathic medicine from patients in the territory. According to Leander, although the Virgin Islands is a “licensed state,” it does not have an active board with Naturopathic doctors on it to approve licenses and regulate additional naturopathic doctors wanting to practice on the island. Leander mentioned that upon receiving her license verification from the Virgin Islands Department of Health, she was given no guidance on how to turn in her continuing education credits or renew her license annually.
Leander also recalled receiving an email stating that she had to add 3 hours of continuing education credits specifically related to STD/STI training in addition to her already existing 30 hours of continuing education. This is not listed under the 2019 US Virgin Islands Code, Title 27, – Professions and Occupations, Chapter 4, Naturopathic Physician Licensing, Section 196. Licensing. Leander said that the Virgin Islands desperately needs a board to regulate and keep naturopathic doctors practicing in the territory. This would give naturopathic doctors clarity within their practice, as well as how to turn in evidence of continuing education hours, and how to renew their license. A regulating board would help to dismantle those who claim to be naturopaths, but do not hold a 4-year naturopathic degree, NPLEX I and II passing marks and state licensure.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Milton E. Potter, Kenneth L. Gittens, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, Genevieve R. Whitaker, and Angel L. Bolques, Jr.