St. Croix—The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services chaired by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr., met Tuesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix, to receive testimony on Bill Nos. 34-0051 and 34-0040.
Bill No.34-0051, which is proposed by Senators Marvin A. Blyden and Novelle E. Francis, Jr., lowers the required minimum amount of fluoride in freshwater distributed for public consumption or consumption in any school in the Virgin Islands.
According to Senator Blyden, the Virgin Islands Code requires the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority and other entities to fluoridate drinking water provided to the public. Current standards need to be updated to reflect updated guidelines of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sen. Blyden also discussed a proposed amendment which would create a dental prevention program for both public and private schools, recognizing that community water fluoridation doesn’t provide sufficient protection against tooth decay.
Noel Hodge, WAPA’s Interim Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, said under the current operating guidelines mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DPNR, the Authority is not directed or required to inject fluoride in the potable water system. He added that as such, the Authority does not utilize fluoride in their day-to-day water distribution operation.
Justa E. Encarnacion, Commissioner, Department of Health, said the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) holds the responsibility for Drinking Water Programs. She said that the Department of Health should be responsible for the surveillance and enforcement of safe drinking water coming from establishments that supply from the non-municipal source as cisterns and man-made wells. Encarnacion recommended the bill be amended to make DPNR responsible for administering, enforcing, and conducting periodic water production and distribution facilities inspections to comply with the provisions.
Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Department of Education Commissioner, said VIDE supports a school-based protocol and agrees with ensuring the water supply systems should supply communities with optimal fluoridation as a safe and effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.
Local dentists and representatives of the American Dental Association spoke to the benefits of school-based fluoride rinse program, citing that only an estimated 30 percent of the Virgin Islands population drinks tap water because of current infrastructure issues.
Dr. Dale Manuel, Chief Dental Officer of Frederiksted Health Care, Inc., said they applaud the amendment to Bill No.34-0051, which includes the addition of a school-based fluoride rinse program for grade school-aged children beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year.
Dr. Lucien Moolenaar, Dental Director of the St. Thomas East End Medical Center (STEEMCC), said that STEEMCC welcomed the intent to institute a tooth-decay prevention fluoridation into the school system of the Virgin Islands and stands ready to assist in any way programmatically possible.
Bill No.34-0051 was amended and voted out of Committee with a favorable recommendation to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration
Bill No.34-0040, which is sponsored by Senator Kurt Vialet, would establish the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) to create a multistate nursing license. Representatives of the territory’s hospitals, the Department of Health and the Nurse Licensure Board testified on the proposal.
Dyma B. Williams, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center (JFL) said JFL supports the Bill and considered the NLC the first step in conquering the nationwide nursing shortage.
Dr. Luis O. Amaro, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Regional Medical Center (SRMC), said SRMC supports the advancement of the Bill with the recommended safeguards that ensure compliance with local licensure mandates and background checks.
DOH Commissioner Justa E. Encarnacion, said the Nurse Licensure Compact aim is to increase access to care while maintaining public protection. She added that under NLC, nurses could practice in other Nurse Licensure Compact states and or territories without obtaining additional licenses.
Bill No.34-0040 received a favorable recommendation to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consider5ation.
Senators at Tuesday’s hearing were Marvin A. Blyden, Kenneth L. Gittens, Kurt A. Vialet, Samuel Carrión, Alma Francis Heyliger, Janelle K. Sarauw, Franklin D. Johnson, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.
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