ST. CROIX – Dozens of people attended a mental health forum Thursday, hosted by two freshman senators from the St. Croix district who have vowed to make mental health a priority during their terms. Senator Allison deGazon and Senator Oakland Benta, chair of the senate committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services, offered the town hall style meeting to hear the challenges with the Virgin Islands’ mental health system, and to provide an outlet where solutions could be presented.
Veteran senator Novelle Francis, Jr. was also in attendance. His bill to provide funding for a mental health care facility was in the spotlight.
When asked to provide a few remarks during the meeting, Sen. Francis said “five million dollars is not enough money. We spend millions and millions of dollars overseas and out of the Territory for the purpose of treating mental illness for some of our more severe cases in the mainland. And if we’re able to provide that funding, bring that service back here to the Territory, then we could certainly save on that and create an institution we can all be proud of.”
Freshman senator and secretary for the body, Sen. Alicia Barnes says she has been working with Francis to improve mental health care in the Territory. “We have an opportunity to be able to partner with psychiatric professionals on the mainland who are willing to come down and do rotations at the Juan Luis Hospital,” said Barnes. “We are in discussions with John Hopkins and some other healthcare providers who are willing to be able to come down on an interim basis, and at least staff up the holding area at Juan Luis while we go through the recruitment process as a way of meeting an immediate need in the short term,” concluded Barnes.
Stakeholders from various agencies and organizations were invited to be panelists at the forum. They provided information about the services their agencies offer, and their roles relative to mental health care.
The panelists included Sherilyn Pogson, NAMI St. Croix president; Dr. Rita Dudley-Grant, clinical psychologist; Malik Stridiron, Ten Thousand Helpers program director; William Harvey, St. Croix police chief; Sheryl Serano-Griffith, Dept. of Education District Director of Special Education; Evril Powell, Dept. of Human Services Assistant Commissioner; Attty. Chivonne Thomas, Gov. Juan Luis Hospital and Medical Center Chief Legal Counsel; and Dr. Nicole Simms, Dept. of Health Assistant Commissioner.