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Future of Nursing Care Facility Unclear

Could the elderly and indigent nursing care patients currently housed at Sea View Nursing Home on St. Thomas end up in a section of the Roy L. Schneider Hospital?

According to some reports, the hospital is under serious consideration to become the “alternate facility” that the V.I. government has agreed to provide in the wake of the closure of Sea View.

Last week the local government and Sea View’s owner, Dr. Alfred O. Heath, reached agreement with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the regulatory arm of Medicare and Medicaid, to resolve issues related to deficiencies CMS found at Sea View.

The report and the agreement are confined to the nursing home. A 14-bed residence program for troubled adolescents that is housed in the same facility is not affected, according to Dr. Celia Victor, who is in charge of residential services for the Department of Human Services.

Under the agreement, Sea View will announce it is closing and will withdraw its appeal of the CMS findings, and CMS will drop its claim for penalty payments and reimbursement of some funds paid to the facility, an amount one source put at approximately $300,000. Also Medicare and Medicaid payments covering nursing home patients, which were to have ended last month, will continue but will be routed to an escrow account administered by the V.I. Attorney General’s Office.

That arrangement is to be in place until Jan. 30, 2016, or until the V.I. government finds an alternate facility, whichever comes first.

The escrowed money can be used to pay for staff and other operating expenses at Sea View in the interim. According to Heath, the main difference will be that he is no longer in the loop. “As long as I’m not in the channel, payments are coming,” he said.

Breaking his silence on the controversy, Heath told the Source that he does not dispute there were problems at the facility, but that he had worked to correct them. CMS’s findings go back to 2013.

Noting that years ago he was the government’s point person in working to get the St. Thomas hospital recertified, Heath said he’s used to working with CMS.

“Everything CMS told me to do, I did,” he said. That included, initially, accepting a manager that CMS sent to Sea View. “He was to turn things around, but he turned them upside down … he brought in consultants, and I had to pay for them. He told them ‘Don’t fix anything. Look for things to fix.’”

A few months ago, Heath said he had an offer from a buyer who seemed to have federal backing, but the deal would have left Heath with the facility’s debts.

“I told them, this is a leveraged buyout, and it’s not going to happen,” Heath said. After that, things went downhill.

Heath, his wife Geraldine and Dr. Barney Frank and his wife, also Geraldine, formed a partnership in the late 1970s that eventually led to opening Sea View. All the other partners are since deceased.

“The service is needed,” Heath said. “It made a difference for more than 20 years … I thought we were doing the right thing.”

“What he did for the Virgin Islands was heroic,” said Heath’s attorney, Maria Hodge. “People would not believe the sacrifices he made to build and to sustain Sea View.” He put thousands and thousands of dollars into the facility, often carrying it when government payments were late. “I think it’s tragic if we don’t hear about that in this difficult time.”

Attempts failed Monday to reach Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd, commissioner designee for the V.I. Department of Human Services, which has responsibility for Medicare and Medicaid recipients. She did not respond by the end of the business day to phone and email messages seeking comment on the next steps for providing nursing care for territory residents. However, she is on record resisting suggestions that patients be sent off-island.

In a June letter to CMS, requesting more time to correct problems, Ebbesen-Fludd noted that Sea View is the only CMS certified skilled nursing facility in the territory and termination of its Provider Agreement “will result in catastrophic physical and social impact on the 31 disabled, elderly and frail residents at Sea View …

“The USVI has no other option, at this time, for total care of these residents in the territory of the USVI,” she wrote. “The reality is that given the medical condition of some of these residents, relocating them outside the territory could result in death to any number of them. I must also add that the social consequences would be dire, in that these medically frail residents would be taken from their families.”

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