Federally qualified nonprofit health clinics like Frederiksted Health Care and the St. Thomas East End Medical Clinic will have statutory authorization to provide emergency surgery, dentistry, family planning and behavioral services to minors if a bill approved in committee Tuesday becomes law.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes, the bill’s sponsor, said it clarifies the law to include these clinics, which did not exist at the time the original law was enacted. It will help make the clinics eligible for federal grant funding for care to minors, while under current law, the clinics’ eligibility is unclear, he said.
Dr. Jamila Benn, the chief medical officer of Frederiksted Health Care, testified in support of the change, saying the law "simply needs to be updated to include the facilities that are present today to serve the most vulnerable of our society and protect those providers and entities charged with their care."
Commissioner of Health Darice Plaskett also testified in support, saying the bill would clarify the law, but was not strictly necessary for the clinic to treat minors.
"The privilege of any federally qualified health center to provide … services to minors does not require an amendment to the current legislation, as they are already covered in the current language," Plaskett said. The Health Department supports passage "because it would clarify any federally qualified health center as a provider and would also list behavioral health services among the services providers can be provided to minors," she said.
At Benn’s urging, the Health, Hospitals and Veterans Affairs Committee voted to add dental services to the list of services. The Frederiksted clinic has seen a surge in dental patients since opening its dental clinic in 2012, partly because the Health Department stopped providing those services at Charles Harwood Medical Complex around the same time.
"Our Chief Dental Officer, Dr. Talia Moses, on several occasions has been faced with the decision to see minors who did not present with a parent but who have come in for care due to pain or because they knew something was wrong in their mouth," Benn said. "In most situations, something definitive or permanent, like a tooth extraction, may need to be carried out, in which event parental or guardian consent is essential. Strictly speaking, this law does not address dentists or dental services; however, the intent of the law is that minors having access to health care – even oral health care – is resounding," she said.
Benn also urged that the bill cover behavioral health services for children, which the version of the bill presented in committee Tuesday already covers.
Voting to send the bill on for favorable consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Consideration were Sanes, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Clarence Payne. Sens. Kenneth Gittens and Clarence Payne were absent.