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Charlotte Amalie
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Nursing Home Wins 5-Star Rating

May 5, 2009 — As the population of the Virgin Islands ages and long-term care for the elderly becomes an issue for many older islanders and their families, one local facility has raised the bar for care.
The federal Medicare and Medicaid system recently gave the Sea View Nursing Home on St. Thomas its top rating —- five out of five stars in a new federal rating system called Nursing Home Compare.
“I’m extraordinarily proud of what we have done here over the last few years,” said Dr. Alfred Heath, owner of the Bolongo Bay facility. Heath cited a litany of challenges over the past decade, chief among them patients’ inability or refusal to pay, which has led to financial and credit crises for Sea View that required government intervention.
“With the current administration and with the Turnbull administration we’ve had tremendous support,” Heath said. “All we try to do is take care of our seniors and give them the treatment they deserve, but nothing about that has been easy. Fortunately we’ve been able to survive.”
Sea View is the only accredited nursing home in the Virgin Islands. Medicare/Medicaid distinguishes nursing homes, in which patients need skilled nursing and care for most of their needs, from assisted-living facilities, in which patients function on their own with a minimum of help for certain daily needs. The Lucinda Millin, Herbert Griggs and Queen Louise homes for the aged are examples of assisted-living facilities, which are not considered nursing homes and not rated by the federal entity.
After assessing the nation’s nursing homes for years, Medicare first posted the statistics on its new website, Nursing Home Compare, in December. It compares nursing homes within states but uses standard criteria nationwide.
The Sea View facility rated five out of five stars —- meaning “much above average” —- in the categories of quality and staffing, and received three out of five stars —- or “average” —- for their health inspections, giving Sea View an overall rating of five stars.
To determine a rating, Medicare officials inspected the facility and its records and interviewed current and former patients and their families. The health inspections and data are gathered over a three-year period.
In the most recently-published ratings, only 12 percent of the nation’s registered nursing homes received five stars.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which goes by the acronym CMS on its website its website, warns that the rating system is only part of the equation of selecting a nursing facility.
Nursing Home Compare “is a good starting point in the search for good information about nursing homes – but definitely not the ending point,” the site says. “In particular, there is no substitute for visiting the nursing homes, talking with staff, with residents, with families of residents, and other knowledgeable people in the community.”
The percentage of the Virgin Islands’ population entering or nearing its senior years has officials and observers watching local care options closely. According to a recent report by the AARP, at least 32 percent of Virgin Islanders were 50 years old and older and at least 12 percent were 65 or older by 2007. Using Census Bureau numbers, AARP predicts that 43 percent of the population will be 50 and older and 23 percent will be 65 and older by 2025.
“The existence and anticipated growth of the Virgin Islands’ aging population will place additional demands on its limited long-term care services,” the report said.
Heath, the owner of the Sea View facility, said the new rating system will help the territory keep track of the status of its facilities as the burden grows. The recent five-star assessment, he said, was proof of what can be done in the territory.
“It’s been a labor of love to get this rating,” Heath said. “The Virgin Islands is supposedly so backwards, but here we’re on top of the nursing facilities in the country.”

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