CHRISTIANSTED — In an effort to improve mental health and behavioral services throughout the territory, Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. signed an Executive Order declaring a mental healthcare emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands due to a shortage of psychiatric physicians and behavioral health providers.
The Governor’s Executive Order will facilitate the hiring of mental health professionals by the Department of Health and both the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and the Schneider Regional Medical Center and will provide the department the opportunity to expand its search for healthcare providers in behavioral health.
“We know well, the lingering issues with mental and behavioral health in the territory.,” Governor Bryan said. “Since hurricanes Irma and Maria the need for these services has grown, and with the departure of the emergency providers, the issue has become more critical. We can no longer ignore the need which will likely increase as we approach another hurricane season. The previous administration made a similar declaration in 2016. This time we need to follow through for the residents who need these services most.”
But at least one Virgin Islands Free Press reader today was skeptical that Bryan’s order would lead to any measurable differences in the way Health officials deal with mental health care issues in the territory.
“A feel good order that will do nothing to solve the issue,” Tom Cruzan wrote. “If you want to address the problem they should start by hiring competent leaders in the hospital and health department.”
Bryan’s Executive Order allows for the immediate deployment of providers from the United States Public Health Services Commissioned Corps and other Federal programs, and also for the suspension of provisions in the Virgin Islands Code that restrict the rehiring of retired mental health professionals.
“Declaring this emergency will give our Department of Health access to federal resources and allow the department to expand its search for mental health providers,” he said. “I thank the providers who have worked tirelessly to fill this void, but we have to provide the help they need. I am calling on the Agencies where these services will be provided to work together creatively to provide this important service to our community.’
Department of Health Commissioner Nominee, Justa Encarnacion, along with Deputy Commissioner Nicole Craigwell Syms have made strengthening mental health care and expanding these critical services a priority and are both leading the administration’s efforts to improve the delivery of mental health and behavioral services throughout the territory.
“The Department of Health is grateful to Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach for their support regarding behavioral and mental health services in the form of Executive Order 486-2019. I am confident that the order will expedite the hiring of necessary providers in the territory. The Executive Order provides an avenue to increasing access to services that have been decreased in some areas and non-existent in others. The Department’s goal is to promote ‘mental wellness’ which we can accomplish through rapid outpatient responses to acute psychotic episodes, and we are looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead,” Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion said.
Governor Bryan’s Order is effective immediately and remains in effect until The Virgin Islands Department of Health confirms that there are enough providers of psychiatric care in the territory or for 180 days unless renewed by the governor.