Healthcare in the Virgin IslandsThe COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected healthcare in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) but risks to public safety in the territory go beyond that. Since the beginning of 2020, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has implemented mass healthcare reforms to help many people of the territory in several areas. Specifically, Governor Bryan and the government addressed long-term problems with healthcare for the region’s people such as emergency medical service regulations, access to healthcare for people of any race or income level, aiding individuals with disabilities and hospital facilities.

Previous Healthcare issues

Prior to the  COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many other things pointing towards issues with access to healthcare in the USVI. Three elements can describe issues the territory has had in providing good healthcare plans to its people: quality, cost and accessibility. Environmental concerns, such as lack of clean water, mismanagement of waste and overfishing, have also impacted peoples’ health negatively. Additionally, homicides have been a big issue as well.

Since March 2020, USVI has had three times as many deaths due to gun violence compared to deaths due to COVID-19. All these factors have put pressure on medical facilities and the resources to help those in need. The government has not always been a great help in funding its hospitals and health insurance has not been cost-friendly to individuals of the territory.

Hurricane and COVID-19 damages

Adding to the previous risk factors towards healthcare in the Virgin Islands, the recent hurricanes and the COVID-19 aftermath have made things much tougher. In 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria cratered improvements in funding towards healthcare plans the territory put in place. Many nurses had to leave for work after heavily hit hospitals such as St. Thomas and the Schneider Regional Medical Center experienced damage. Many patients who were already recovering from their own illnesses or injuries had to be transferred or died as a result of these natural disasters. The most recent and well-known risk factor to public health and safety of the territory is COVID-19. As of September 1, 2020, there have been 1143 positive cases and 15 reported deaths.

Healthier Horizons

As the territory moves to address problems with healthcare in the Virgin Islands, positive plans have been put in place that will improve healthcare in the region. Governor Bryan and the USVI government have called the healthcare plan “Healthier Horizons.” This plan will directly focus on 11 parts of a good healthcare system:

  • Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities
  • Health Information Exchange
  • Telehealth
  • Medical Compacts
  • Virgin Islands Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
  • EMS regulation
  • Healthy Housing Initiative
  • Associated Health Plans
  • Improved Hospital Facilities
  • Health Plan of the Territory
  • Medical Cannabis

All of these parts of the territories’ action plan for providing more efficient, immediate and affordable health insurance to the citizens of the USVI will cover many issues. This reform is not only based on the foundation of previous problems of healthcare in the Virgin Islands but also stems from the desire to allow any individual, no matter their race or income, to get the medical help they need. This also includes updating medicines and health resources as well as having stronger funded hospitals and facilities across the islands.

Dorian Ducre
Photo: Flickr