The Virgin Islands Healthcare Foundation (VIHCF) has announced the long-anticipated opening in fall 2022 of its non-profit dialysis clinic located in the Annex of the Sunny Isles Shopping Center on St Croix, U.S.V.I. Construction began in April 2022 on the 13-station dialysis unit. The clinic will provide lifesaving dialysis treatments for up to 78 patients when fully operational.
The VIHCF, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in 2018, has remained steadfast in its commitment to serve the dialysis community. The critical need to create a stable sustainable center has been ongoing in the aftermath of the hurricanes. However, the urgency accelerated in August 2021 when the dialysis trailer at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital was put on notice for its certification.
Although the hemodialysis team at the hospital has been doing a phenomenal job, the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) certification was granted for a time-limited under “extraordinary circumstances” in 2018. This “special consideration” allowed evacuated patients to return home to receive their life saving treatments in the trailer, until a permanent solution could be found.
The foundation has partnered with the well-reputed Dialysis Clinic Inc. (DCI), which is the nation’s largest non-profit dialysis provider, to operate and manage its new dialysis clinic. DCI was founded in 1971 by Dr. Keith Johnson in Nashville, Tenn., at a time when he faced challenges not unlike ours: “too few resources to meet so many needs.” DCI now has over 250 outpatient dialysis centers across the country and employs approximately 5,000 people serving more than 14,000 patients with kidney failure.
Dr. Johnson visited St. Croix and St. Thomas with his executive team in 2018 after he learned of the plight of evacuees receiving treatments in DCI centers since September 2017. He discovered that for over a year they had been housed in hotel rooms and could not come home because there were not enough outpatient dialysis units to accommodate them safely.
He contacted the local doctors to find out how DCI could help the situation. And so began the gift of this collaboration which promises to benefit the V.I. dialysis community tremendously. Patients may be able to qualify for programs in the future, such as home dialysis and peritoneal dialysis, which are currently unavailable in the territory of the Virgin Islands. They can also plan their travel to the mainland for leisure or specialty medical care, including transplantation, with access to DCI’s many dialysis units across the country. Access to continued education, workshops and training programs for our staff will improve confidence, quality and performance, and create better career opportunities on island.
The new clinic will provide not only safe reliable treatments, but it also aims to fulfill ancillary needs of dialysis patients, such as guidance through the complex healthcare journey, dietetic services, mental health counseling, disease prevention education, dialysis access surveillance and coordination of all related needs.
Based on the United States Renal Data System (USRDS), the incidence of kidney failure is rising and the need for dialysis is increasing all over the country, not just in our territory. The non-profit foundation aims to deliver these critical services to the underserved population in a challenging environment of rising healthcare costs and decreasing payments for dialysis.
The foundation began to raise funds and acquire specialized equipment for this audacious goal through a grass roots movement of donations. Federal grant-awarded funds helped secure telehealth capabilities and information technology systems. In September 2021, the foundation met with the Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. to seek funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Governor understood the dire need and recommended VIHCF apply to the VI Office of Budget for a grant from ARPA. On Nov. 11, 2021, the foundation qualified and was awarded a $1 million grant, which opened the way to securing contracts for the build-out. However, this amount will not be enough to open the doors.
First the COVID pandemic and now the tumultuous global events have caused an economic crisis across the planet. The VIHCF is facing challenges of increased costs of fuel and materials, limited resources and delayed timelines due to supply chain issues. An added urgency to open is the risk hurricane season poses to the tenuous structure of the trailer in which patients currently receive their treatments. If evacuation does become necessary again, patients can now feel confident that they will come home to a fully operational, state-of-the-art dialysis clinic.
The foundation thanks Gov. Bryan and his administration, Dr. Keith Johnson and the dedicated team at Dialysis Clinic Inc., the engineers and consultants who have donated their personal time and valuable expertise for this worthy project and, most of all, the Dialysis Patients Advocacy Group for their support and belief in the foundation’s mission.
VIHCF will hosting a Construction Progress Event from 2-4 p.m., Sunday, July 31, to showcase the build-out that is underway at the Dialysis Clinic. The governor as well as several community partners will be attending. It will be held at the Annex of the Sunny Isles Shopping Center across from the WAPA business office. People can RSVP to attend the event by emailing to email@example.com.
VIHCF is incredibly grateful for the community’s continued generous support. The gift of each donation, any amount no matter how small, goes toward the opening of this clinic.
Visit the website at www.vihcf.org to find out more about the Virgin Islands Healthcare Foundation and how to donate.