Home News Local news Setting Geriatric Care Guidelines May Be Premature, Health Officials Say

Setting Geriatric Care Guidelines May Be Premature, Health Officials Say

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Nov. 14, 2006 — A bill mandating that certain health care providers be "knowledgeable" in geriatric services will not solve the territory's pressing need to provide better quality health care for senior citizens, testifiers said during Tuesday's Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee meeting.
Sponsored by Sen. Liston Davis, the bill is a brief document, which states that "all physicians, nurses and other health care providers" working with "persons in homes for the aged or the destitute" must be educated, trained or have a minimum of five years experience in the field of geriatrics. Additionally, the bill stipulates that providers be certified to administer geriatric care to patients by the Commissioners of Health and Human Services.
"There is a growing realization that the V.I. population is aging, and older people require special care separate and apart from everybody else," Davis said, adding that senior citizens are more prone to developing Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis or diabetes. "So we need more individuals with geriatrics training, since there are not many people in the territory qualified enough to work with the elderly."
Anticipating opposition to the bill, Davis said he would be willing to hold it in committee in order to incorporate suggestions from health care professionals. "But what I would like to come out of this meeting is a plan, an acceptable way for us to address this ticking time bomb that is being put on the back burner in society," he said.
While testifiers said they "applauded" the intent of the bill, many suggested that a "proper foundation" be put in place before anything is implemented. Specifically, health care professionals said training programs first have to be developed within the territory and adequate funding must be provided by the Legislature to compensate for the cost of the training.
According to Dr. Kendall Griffith, medical director at Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, the bill should also include funding for the construction of more nursing homes.
"Because we're hindered by the current Medicaid cap — we only have about $6 million in federal dollars to spend between all the agencies for care– what we're seeing here is that a large population of elderly patients are homeless and have nowhere to go," Kendall said.
Kendall continued, "Since the concern here is that a very large population of the community is not being served, the V.I. government has to take some of the responsibility in caring for these individuals."
While other hospital officials said that local nurses are trained to deal with elderly residents, some testifiers called the bill "ambiguous" and stressed the need for a more "comprehensive plan" with incentives for attracting health care professionals.
"My concern here is that we're putting the cart before the horse," said Jane Washburn, a public health nurse on St. John. Washburn said the territory first has to develop qualifications and standards for certifying health care providers, obtain the necessary resources and be prepared to pay for individuals to go off island for training.
"Training is the bottom line here," she said, adding that there is a "vital and urgent need" to address the increasing number of Alzheimer's and dementia cases in the territory. To illustrate this point, Washburn said that current medical data indicates that African-American populations are "hard hit" when it comes to both diseases.
"The baby boomer generation will also soon be coming online for care, and we have to lay down the groundwork. We have to get the training in place," Washburn added.
Senators unanimously voted to hold the bill in committee on Tuesday.
Present during the meeting was Davis, along with Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Neville James and Usie R. Richards.
Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Norman Jn Baptiste were absent.
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