Virgin Islands Healthcare Foundation Awarded ARPA Grant
PRESS RELEASE --- ST CROIX, USVI, DECEMBER 2, 2021 –
Local non-profit to open outpatient dialysis center and clinic
to service the St. Croix community.
The Virgin Islands Healthcare Foundation (VIHCF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit established in 2018 in response to healthcare needs identified in the aftermath of 2017 Hurricanes Irma & Maria. VIHCF formed to facilitate healthcare initiatives that empower, educate, and enhance the lives of the most vulnerable in the Virgin Islands community. VIHCF’s mission is to provide care to the underserved and those excluded from the healthcare system, and to help alleviate disparities caused by geographical location, lack of resources, and the Territorial status of the United States Virgin Islands.
In September 2021 VIHCF applied to the VI Office of the Governor for an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant after learning that funds were available for medical facilities to mitigate COVID-19 conditions. On November 11, 2021 VIHCF was awarded one million dollars from the ARPA Grant.
The Foundation aims to open an outpatient dialysis center and clinic that will provide services such as outpatient dialysis, renal dietetic services, and COVID-19 testing for the dialysis patients. The Department of Health has granted the Foundation a Certificate of Need for hemodialysis on St. Croix. The Foundation has already raised half of the funds and equipment necessary, and this is grant will enable the project to be completed.
VIHCF was founded with a singular goal to facilitate healthcare initiatives that serve to improve the well-being of the most vulnerable in our Virgin Islands community. VIHCF’s mission is to provide care to the underserved, empower and educate those excluded from the healthcare system, and to help alleviate disparities caused by geographical location, lack of resources, and the Territorial status of the United States Virgin Islands. The Foundation has identified the hemodialysis patient population as one of the most vulnerable in the community, now even more so with the threat of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Foundation’s goal is to provide a quality option for dialysis care to the St. Croix community. The first major project that VIHCF will undertake is outpatient hemodialysis services. In the future the Foundation hopes to turn its attention to mental health, and will add behavioral health services.
The Foundation’s Board is excited about this project, especially because the Governor has recognized it as a part of his healthy initiative for the Virgin Islands. The Grant will help serve the Foundation's mission to stabilize the well-being of Virgin Islanders with end stage kidney disease, who have continually endured numerous obstacles to receiving standard health care. Those challenges have been particularly exacerbated over the past twenty months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The VIHCF and the hemodialysis patients thank Governor Bryan for recognizing this urgent need and taking action.
On August 23, 2021 the Governor Juan Luis Hospital (JFL) sent out a letter announcing that they were shutting down their Outpatient Dialysis Unit. The Hospital had made the decision to transfer all dialysis patients to the private dialysis unit, due to the failing condition of the JFL dialysis trailers and the fact that the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) was no longer going to continue the post-hurricanes “Special Circumstances Certification” for the trailers.
The patients receiving treatments at the JFL outpatient dialysis trailer have no choice but to transfer to the private dialysis center. Currently, the only other option for the patients is to leave St. Croix and move permanently to the states.
Over the last four years, the JFL Dialysis Patient Support Group has strongly advocated for the dialysis patients on St. Croix, who were displaced and relocated to dialysis units all over the country in the aftermath of the hurricanes of 2017. They returned home after more than a year to receive treatments in temporary trailers where they remain to this date. Beginning in 2017 and each following year, they have been promised that the hospital would provide a permanent dialysis unit. Unfortunately, that permanent unit has never materialized. The JFL Dialysis Patient Support Group and the patients have actively voiced their objection to being placed at the private dialysis center without another option available.
"A new dialysis center means the world to me. It means being able to continue living at home on St Croix. The telehealth part is exciting because I will be able to see a stateside doctor if needed, even from my St. Croix dialysis chair. And my doctors here can monitor me from home. What the Foundation is doing reminds me of the old days when the community came together to build a Church. Everyone is working together. But, the main thing that's important to me is that it offers us a choice."
~ Mr. Angel Rivera, a member of JFL Dialysis Support Group and dialysis patient
“Ever since my wife, Dr Tasnim Khan and I came to St. Croix over a decade ago, we have been closely involved with the dialysis patients and their individual and collective journeys. We helped evacuate them after Hurricane Maria and Irma. We do not want anyone to ever to have to go through that ordeal again. I promised the patients I would build them a dialysis unit and I promised Aminah I would open a mental health clinic."
~ Dr. Jan Tawakol, VIHCF founder
Between the increasing risks of natural disasters and a seemingly unending COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more imperative to have more than one dialysis option on the island. Having only one dialysis center on St Croix is an unstable situation because a closure for any reason can have life-threatening consequences for the patients dependent on dialysis. It is important to acknowledge that there is also an increasing need for dialysis with the sharply rising incidence of renal failure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having a second supporting unit would help avoid future dislocation of this vulnerable group of patients in case of another disaster.
Over the last year, VIHCF has been working with the support of Dialysis Clinic, Inc. (DCI), a non-profit 501(c)(3) to design a modern and stable facility to accommodate hemodialysis patient treatments. Work has been completed by engineers and architects to ensure that all critical aspects of the build-out are addressed and meet strict CMS and Life Safety regulations. Once completed, DCI will provide operational management for the dialysis clinic on St Croix, under the direction of the Foundation.
A non-profit provider since its inception in 1971, DCI has consistently put patients first. DCI provides the best care among national kidney care providers and invests a substantial portion of its resources to improve this care. With more than 250 outpatient clinics, and over 120 hospital dialysis programs across 30 states, DCI is the nation’s largest non-profit dialysis provider. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, DCI employs over 5,000 people serving more than 14,000 people with kidney disease. DCI operates under the mission “We are a non-profit service organization. The care of the patient is our reason for existence”.
Working with the non-profit Dialysis Clinic, Inc., the VIHCF will not only be able to provide the dialysis patients with timely and cost-effective medications and supplies, but importantly will also provide direct access to DCI’s stateside units and the kidney transplant donor procurement program. DCI founded and remains closely affiliated with DCI Donor Services, Inc., which operates independent organ procurement agencies and also contributes to research to improve patient access to transplantation.
The Foundation board meets regularly with the Dialysis Patient Support Group, to learn about their healthcare needs and concerns. The St Croix VIHCF Dialysis Center is being constructed to prioritize and meet those needs.
"As a dialysis patient here on St Croix for 27 years, I sure have been through a lot of trials and tribulations. From the time that Dr. Tawakol and Dr. Khan became involved with the dialysis unit at JFL, we have all become a family. We have five kids, four in the states that we visit and so we know what a dialysis unit can be. That's why we got involved with the Foundation. And from the time we started working, it has been non-stop. We can see progress. With the Foundation we have a lot of excellent people doing a good job for our community, donating their time, expertise, and talent. It's like a breath of fresh air knowing that something is coming."
~ Mr. Wallace Phaire, former Chairman of the Board of the Juan F. Luis Hospital and 1994 founding member of the JFL Dialysis Support Group
In 2020, VIHCF applied for and was awarded $416,002 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program, to purchase remote patient monitoring systems to reduce in-person contact for providers and patients with chronic conditions who might contract COVID-19 from otherwise routine visits. This equipment will allow VIHCF and DCI to have direct communication with dialysis patients not only during a crisis or natural disaster but also to provide on-going monitoring of stabilization and care coordination.
In addition to the ARPA grant award and FCC's reimbursment program, VIHCF has raised funds through private donations. The Foundation plans to reinvest in community education, prevention and management of chronic diseases, along with other Foundation missions including mental health services and other healthcare initiatives. The Foundation looks forward to collaborating with the newly formed non-profit Virgin Islands Diabetes Center of Excellence to provide public education for the prevention of diabetes. Diabetes is a leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for 44% percent of new cases.
“This is a community project so many people have pitched in to help. We are all excited about making this happen for the patients and everyone because no one knows when they or someone in their family may to be on dialysis.”
~ Aminah Saleem, board member
For questions or more information, please contact Aminah Saleem at firstname.lastname@example.org.