Governor Albert Bryan Jr. announced a new slate of initiatives to expand mental health services in the Virgin Islands, after three years following the state of emergency for mental health and virtually negligible results to uphold for it.

During a news conference focused on COVID-19 pandemic, the governor made known the reintroduction of the VI Behavioral Health as also Developmental Disability Act, whose objective was to fill in the gaps present in services for persons who have behavioral health issues, mental illness, have faced developmental disabilities, and experienced alcohol or substance abuse problems.

However, it is a fact that the bill had originally been submitted to the Legislature and had gotten held up in the committee discussions. The updated Bill, which was developed by stakeholders and Senator Francis Jr.’s Office, may help expedite the consideration of a bill aimed to reform how behavioral health is handled. 

“It’s been due for a long time,” said Bryan, who had declared a State of Emergency on mental health in 20`9, and shook his head. “The onus is on us to scrutinize it in the Legislative House and ensure its passage, thus allowing the Judiciary, the mental health professionals, and the Health Department employees to do their jobs more easily.”

The bill is packed with modifications, but the points which Bryan mentioned include a plan for patients to receive voluntary treatment, an approach to determining mental ability to face a trial, and a strategy for people suffering from substances abuse problems.

The bill would create a crisis intervention program, while at the same time and a crisis intervention team will “mediate some circumstances that we witness in our community wherein our enforcement personnel are compelled to interact with someone who might be suffering from mental illness but may not have sufficient training in the field.”

The legislation also addresses family members who are caring for loved ones with behavioral health disorders and issues. “Because it’s difficult when your loved one might be experiencing something but you don’t have access to the resources,” he continued. “You really want a legal component of what can be done because there isn’t much unless this legislation is in place.”

Within the document, there are also safeguards for the homeless, one of which is that “our office receives a lot of complaints pertaining to ‘the homeless people, many of who appear to be afflicted with behavioral health issues,’ which is addressed in this legislation.

“We can’t just pick people from the street and put them in care, even though this legislation renders it easier as also possible. It also addresses the involuntary commitment of individuals suffering from behavioral health problems because they frequently refuse treatment. It deals with that, too, by allowing counties to establish crisis teams that work 24 hours.”

The bill, however, still must be subjected to close scrutiny through several committees before it may be enacted. In some other discussions, he stated that $25 million from every quarter of the financial budget will be used to pay the pending tax refunds to those taxpayers who are owed money from previous years.

“That’s the money which we have dedicated to catching up. Even though we could have used it to pave roads, install lighting, or complete other projects, but we decided to pay it to the citizens instead,” he continued.

The most recent compensation will cover the tax refunds submitted in 2020, and will bring the government nearer to pay for the year for which taxes are submitted, which Bryan predicted would be accomplished by Bryan-Roach administrative unit.

During the press conference, Esther Ellis, Territorial Epidemiologist for COVID-19, provided an update on the status of COVID in the island. The disease claimed its 114th victim in New Mexico this past weekend, marking the first time since the previous month. An 87-year-old unvaccinated man in St. Thomas was the victim.

The Virgin Islands has more than 600 COVID positive cases, with 452 on St. Croix, 131 on St. Thomas, and 44 on St. John. Overall, 11.72 is the territory’s positivity rating.

“You may have observed that over the past few weeks the number of active cases on the three islands are changing. According to statistics, the numbers on St. Thomas have levelled off and are declining. Prior to the fair, cases in St. Croix were increasing; however, they appear to be stabilizing now,” Ellis added.

There were still six no-ventilation hospitalizations in St. Thomas and a similar one in St. Croix after the curve levelled off.

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