Senators Ray Fonseca and Diane T. Capehart departed on Sunday, Dec. 10, to tour two facilities that house 34 of the territory’s behavioral health patients in the State of Florida. Deputy Commissioner Renan Steele of the Department of Health joined the delegation at both establishments.
The tour, organized by the Office of Sen. Ray Fonseca, chairman of the Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services, began at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health in Winter Park, Fla., and Sunrise Community House in Miami, Fla. By the end of the tour that ended on Dec. 13, senators and support staff met with the leadership of both facilities to discuss the welfare of Virgin Islands residents being housed at its facility as well as services and the financial relationship between the facilities and the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Senators visited with the patients, sang local songs, danced, and discussed their needs and very vocal opinions about being boarded abroad. All expressed their desire to be closer to relatives especially during the holidays, acknowledging that the festivities for the Crucian Festival will soon begin.
Sen. Fonseca expressed a sense of urgency to begin discussions with the commissioners of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services to discuss the establishment of a public-private partnership that restores behavioral health services in the Virgin Islands.
Senator Capehart shared his sentiment and instructed support staff to urgently contact the aforementioned agencies to discuss the steps to make this goal a reality. A meeting has been scheduled for the end of January 2024, and an agenda was circulated so that all parties will attend the meeting prepared to engage in a productive conversation.
“I could not help but become emotional when [redacted for privacy] expressed how much she missed her family and just wants to see her grandma one more time,” Capehart said.
Fonseca said, “My duty as the chair of the Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services is to ensure we do all possible to make the right decisions regarding these patients and to work with the departments to ensure they feel supported in these circumstances.”
He further, “encourages the leadership and appropriate staff of the Department of Health and Department of Human Services to visit these Virgin Islanders or facilitate a way for their families to be able to do the same regularly.”
“In the best interest of our residents, we must do better,” Capehart said. As a result of this visit, senators have submitted an amendment to Capehart’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) legislation to create a section that allows an in-patient, voluntary and involuntary admission, for assessment and treatment of mental illness.
Fonseca has also signed on as a primary sponsor to Capehart’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team legislation, BRN #23-0412. This bill also seeks to increase access to behavioral health services, with a focus on a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team to provide mobile crisis intervention services and an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the 9-8-8 telecommunication system.
For more information or to contact the Office of Senator Diane T. Capehart, call 712-2335 or email email@example.com .