Members of the V.I. Senate’s Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Service reacted in disbelief during a hearing on Tuesday when Virgin Islands Board of Nurse Licensure Territorial Executive Director Carmen Vanterpool-Romney said the board does not require a criminal background check before issuing a license.
“Currently the board does not do criminal background checks, but that’s why we are very careful in the processing that we do and the information that we need from the nurses from abroad,” Vanterpool-Romney said.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens disagreed with Vanterpool-Romney, saying the board was not being careful.
“I think the board is being reckless in this regard. Imagine that we could have people coming in here, in the health care field, and we are saying we are not conducting a criminal record check as per law,” Gittens said. “We can’t go around that.”
“Getting people to go to the Virgin Islands Police Department and getting a criminal background check done is not something that is hard to do,” Gittens added.
Vanterpool-Romney provided no clear explanation for the board not demanding the background checks. She said the Legislature did not provide enough resources and funding for the board to properly staff, perform and function as it is supposed to.
“We at the board, we need the resources, we need the ability to do what the board needs to do,” Vanterpool-Romney said.
But Sen. Kurt Vialet said though the Legislature funds the board, “When there have been requests for additional funds, we have provided it.”
Vialet said the larger problem is that the law states all medical boards must perform criminal background checks before issuing licenses.
The law was put in place at a time when “fraud occurred in the Virgin Islands with individuals who had criminal history working in the Virgin Islands. We passed legislation to stop that. Now it is up to those entities to implement. If there is a need for funding to implement, then we need to know. It is very dangerous to have nurses come into the Virgin Islands and we don’t have that criminal background check.”
Janet Haebler, senior associate director of policy and state government affairs at the American Nurses Association, said the Virgin Islands was not alone. Because of the “heavy cost” to perform a criminal background check, “many states didn’t require robust criminal background checks” until more recently.
Haebler added that the background check is only required at the time of the license and is not repeated. Most states have transferred this expense to the nurse, so additional funding for the nursing board would not necessarily be required to meet the board’s obligation.
“I think that the points made by the Board of Nurse Licensure are moot and they need to just do their job,” Sen. Janelle Sarauw said.
Sens. Novelle Francis Jr., Marvin Blyden, Gittens, Vialet, Samuel Carrion, Alma Francis Heyliger and Sarauw were present for the hearing. Additional non-committee members were also present.