The Rules and Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to move forward all nine nominees being considered for various medical, veterinary and management boards to the full body.
The nominees for the Virgin Islands Board of Pharmacy are Dr. Vernique Caswell, Danson Nganga and Laura Forbes. All were approved unanimously by the seven committee members.
Nganga said he was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and has experience living in impoverished areas where medical access is limited. He said this experience combined with the recent disasters of hurricanes Irma and Maria “caused [his] heart to become knit with the hearts of the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Sen. Janelle Sarauw said Kmart and Walgreens closed after hurricanes Irma and Maria, making it difficult for patients to obtain prescriptions. Limited access to patient files and long lines at open pharmacies made it nearly impossible to serve everyone in need.
“I think it was so unfair for those pharmacies to just close the doors when patients were in dire need and diabetic patients were in lines for hours in this district begging and pleading,” Sarauw said.
Nganga told senators he wants to improve already existing protocols to ensure that residents will not be deprived of prescription access in the event of another natural disaster.
He also said he would also like ensure all rights and privileges available to retail pharmacies in the states are also available to those in the territory. “There should be no disparity in such privileges seeing that we all answer to the same National Board of Pharmacy,” he said.
Forbes, a nominee for the same board, said there was a learning curve after the storms and the board has already spoken about protocol should another natural disaster strike. “The first thing we did was to try to make sure the pharmacies would feel comfortable being able to provide whatever the patient needed. So when the computer system is down and you can’t access their files, look up insurance or how to bill … what we did was we made a provision that if the patient comes through with a bottle … from your pharmacy, and even if it had no refills, we will give you up to two refills of whatever you had,” she said.
Forbes said something similar has been implemented at the hospitals and that information has been shared with the Department of Health and VITEMA.
Also under consideration were V.I. Board of Psychology Examiners nominees Dr. Ramona Moss and Dr. Nicolette Cutright, who moved forward without any contention, receiving seven favorable votes.
Cutright, who acts as the director of training at Insight Psychological Services and Schneider Regional Medical Center, said because she has worked with students pursuing degrees in psychology she has knowledge about the modern programs available to train future psychologists. Her experience, she said, will help her assist the board in updating rules and regulations to better accommodate those seeking online degrees.
Moss, who has served on the Psychology Board since 2009, said on the agenda for the board is “determining how online schools affect the quality of education and experiences and therefore the delivery of psychological services to the community they are serving.”
In addition to the Psychology Examiners Board nominations, both the substance abuse counselor nominee for the V.I. Board of Licensed Counselors and Examiners, Curtis E. Callendar, and the Virgin Islands Board of Optometrical Examiners nominee, Dr. Lisa Adams-Mahepath, moved forward to the full body with a unanimous vote.
Callendar said he sees the formation of the Licensed Counselors and Examiners Board as a definitive step towards improving the infrastructure of the territory. “In effect, the establishment of the board … puts in place standards on par with the continental U.S. and finally prevents the exclusion of perhaps the largest sector of mental health practitioners across the country,” he said.
He added while the establishment of the board won’t solve all the problems related to accessibility of mental health services, “ensuring that professionals providing the services have met minimum standards is certainly a start.”
Adams-Mahepath, who along with her husband owns the Sterling Optical in the territory, said she has supported various legislation regarding ocular health and hopes to continue to do so while in a position on the Optometrical Examiners Board.
Virgin Islands Board of Examiners for Practice of Veterinary Medicine nominee Dr. Laura Palminteri and Coastal Zone Management Commission nominee Jawanza Wallace-Hilaire were also approved without reservation by the committee.
Testifying to be reappointed to the Examiners for Practice of Veterinary Medicine Board, Palminteri, who has been a member of the board for fifteen years and chairperson for the past seven, said during her tenure she has seen major advancements in the veterinary profession in the territory.
“In 2018 a new updated Veterinary Practice Act was approved which made much needed changes. Most notably, this Practice Act established a process for veterinary technicians to become licensed and recognized for their professional skill set. Prior to this there was no regulation of veterinary technicians and their essential role in animal care,” Palminteri said.
She was also involved in other developments in which she supported the establishment of permanent low cost spay and neuter programs across the territory that provide year-round service addressing animal overpopulation.
Wallace-Hilaire, who is nominated for a seat on the CZM Commission, said a report sponsored by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program in 2013 titled “The Total Economic Value of U.S. Coral Reefs” researched the monetary value of coral reefs.
“They found the total coral reef value for the U.S.V.I. was $187 million with tourism accounting for $98 million followed by recreation and cultural value at $48 million. This helps provide the case for preserving our coral reefs as we have seen legislation recently passed in respect to that,” Wallace-Hilaire said.
Tourism makes up approximately 60 percent of the territory’s gross domestic product, Wallace-Hilaire said, “with many economic activities depending heavily on ocean tourism. So it’s imperative that we have programs in place to manage this system.”
Present for each vote were Sens. Sarauw, Novelle Francis Jr., Alicia Barnes, Kenneth Gittens, Myron Jackson, Javan James and Steven Payne Sr.