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HomeNewsLocal newsHealth Dept. Fields Questions About Mental Health Crisis

Health Dept. Fields Questions About Mental Health Crisis

Justa Encarnacion presented the Health Department budget and answered questions about a proposed mental health facility. (Photos by Chaunte Herbert, Legislature of the Virgin Islands.)

Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion gave the Finance Committee a detailed report Wednesday on the accomplishments she saw in her department last year. Several senators, however, were concerned they were not seeing progress on what they called “a mental health crisis” in the territory.

Sen. Janelle Sarauw asked the commissioner if she was satisfied with the pace for building a facility in the territory to handle residents with behavior problems.

Encarnacion said, “no one is.” But she added that presently all the Health Department had to work with was seed money and “a piece of land” (in Anna’s Hope on St. Croix.)

Sarauw said the Senate, two legislatures ago, had given the department money to begin the project. Encarnacion said $15 million would be needed to build a facility that would be up to Medicare and Medicaid standards.

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Sen. Javan James questioned Encarnacion about how many residents were being housed in facilities on the continent and when the millions being spent on their care in the states could be spent in the territory. Encarnacion said 40 residents were now being housed out of the territory.

Sarauw said, “Every day we see a new person on the street.”

In July 2019, Encarnacion said her department was in the process of implementing a three-phase behavioral health services plan. The plan’s first phase was the reopening of the Charles Harwood Complex Clubhouse, the second phase was to work on an Anna’s Hope treatment facility and the third phase was to create and establish a project management office for the Anna’s Hope treatment facility.

Sen. Novelle Francis told Encarnacion that he thought the government was just “spinning wheels” instead of getting the Anna’s Hope project done. He urged her to do something to have an impact on the treatment of those with behavior problems.

Health Department officials offered the following breakdown of their proposed budget requests: $28,563,642 from the General Fund; $19,580,390 re-occurring Federal Funds; $2,964,136 designated for the Health Revolving Fund; $1,896,954 non-appropriated funds, which includes the Indirect Cost Fund of federal reimbursements, Health Casino Fund of money statutorily allocated from gambling taxes, and the Emergency Surcharge Fund from residents’ phone bills.

According to the Legislature’s post-audit report, the department’s budget request from the General Fund represents a decrease of $4,393,408 below fiscal year 2021 funding of $33,057,384. Also, the post-audit report says the Health Department has 351 employees and 36 vacant positions.

Encarnacion said, because of challenges in daily operations resulting from COVID-19, anticipated collections for fiscal year 2021 are projected at $2,800,000 which is lower than the fiscal year 2020 collections of $2,894,365.

Tanicia Penn, chairwoman of the Board of Nurse Licensure, also presented her board’s request for an appropriation of $536,885 for fiscal year 2022 on Wednesday. According to the post-audit report, that is the same amount requested by the board last fiscal year.

Penn said a total of 1,338 licensed applicants are in the board’s database. Of these files, the active licenses consist of 1,250 registered nurses, 89 licensed practical nurses. Excluded from this database are advanced practice registered nurses. According to Penn, 139 active advance practice nurses are licensed in the territory. There are also 144 certified nursing assistants in the territory.

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