For the first time in 17 years, aging and disabled Virgin Islanders needing long-term nursing care may not be able to get the help they need at home. This situation is a result of Sea View Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility on St. Thomas ceasing operations on Jan. 30.
The territory’s only nursing home lost its certification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2016. In 2016 Sea View served 31 patients, roughly split between the home for the aged and one for adolescents with mental disabilities or behavioral problems.
An official at the Department of Human Services said the government could not accommodate all of Sea View’s remaining residents with beds in government-run nursing homes.
Because of an aging population in the Virgin Islands, government officials say it is now a priority to upgrade those two facilities and win CMS certification.
Assistant Commissioner Michal Rhymer-Browne said the Queen Louise Home on St. Thomas and the Herbert Griggs Home for the Aged had beds for four of the six people in need.
“We’ve pretty much spread them across Queen Louise Home and Herbert Griggs. Two went out of the territory. We have one home in Puerto Rico that we sent them to,” Browne said.
But confidentiality laws protecting patients kept her from saying more.
According to one Human Services official, two more Sea View residents were taken to a facility in Puerto Rico for continued care. The last time a similar transfer took place – in 2013 – three people who were abandoned at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, and became boarder patients, died within a year of being transferred to Puerto Rico.
At the time Luis Hospital was in the midst of a financial crisis that made the cost of caring for those called boarder patients overwhelming. Loss of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement after Sea View was decertified left them with financial loss.
Human Services spokeswoman Michelle Francis said Sea View’s owner continued to care for those whose families could not take them home.
“Dr. Alfred Heath, owner of Sea View, continued to provide much needed nursing home services to longtime residents of the home and others who became residents after CMS decertification,” Francis said.
In a statement issued on Jan. 17, Human Services Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez thanked Heath for his commitment to serve.
“DHS is grateful for Dr. Heath and his vision and commitment, that has allowed thousands of residents from St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John to receive quality medical, continuous nursing, health and social services for decades within our community at Sea View,” the commissioner said.
Sea View Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility began operations on June 19, 1993. In 2016 the St. Thomas nursing home served 31 patients, roughly split between the home for the aged and one for adolescents with mental disabilities or behavioral problems.
Now that Sea View’s residential units are closed, a task force is planning for development and expansion.
“We are an aging community and we are going to need a skilled nursing facility,” Browne said. “There’s going to be capital projects needed for the nursing home.”
Finding the funds to build a facility that meets the requirements of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is a multistep process. Guidelines for completing the process can be found on the CMS website.
Certification of a skilled nursing home occurs when a facility meets the requirements of the Social Security Act as a qualified service provider and is declared in compliance with federal regulations.