A bill that seeks to establish a scholarship fund for a territory-wide psychiatry doctoral program won the approval of lawmakers on Tuesday in the Committee on Education and Workforce Development.
The measure would set aside no more than $40,000 to two recipients — one from the St. Thomas-St. John District and one from St. Croix — for four academic years, and applied to an accredited medical school along with its costs, to include tuition, books, supplies, academic fees, and lodging. The bill requires scholarship recipients to work in the territory for a certain number of years upon completion of their degree.
“The territory lacks an adequate number of psychiatrists,” said Senator Kurt Vialet, the bill’s chief sponsor. “We need to create a pool of psychiatric care, therefore, the bill provides a funding source for students attending medical school in which, upon graduation, will work in the territory.” Senator Steven Payne is also a sponsor of the bill.
According to the bill, seen here, persons who receive the scholarship must sign a contract with the V.I. Dept. of Health “for two years for each scholarship award year.” Failure to comply would result in the scholarship becoming a loan payable to the Government of the Virgin Islands in the amount of the scholarship awarded along with 10 percent of the total amount of the scholarship.
“Scholarship paired with a commitment to provide services to the Department [of Health] is critical in filling the void and will aid in establishing continued care for people in need of psychiatric services,” said Department of Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion.
The health commissioner said that as of Tuesday there was one full-time psychiatrist and another on contract.
The measure comes amid a mental health crisis in the USVI that has strained the understaffed health department.
Virgin Islands Board of Medical Examiners Chairman Dr. Frank Odlum recommended that in addition to students, the scholarship should include existing psychiatrists by offering a partial loan repayment program. “The suggested method will attract a lot more psychiatrists to the territory. Additionally, partial loan repayment allows the applicant to assume some responsibilities for their education,” said Senator Stedman Hodge in support of Dr. Odlum’s suggestion.
Funding for the program would be provided through an annual appropriation taken from the Education Initiative Fund. Any funds collected as a result of noncompliance with the agreement between scholarship recipients and the government would be deposited in the Education Initiative Fund and go toward the scholarship program.
In other action, senators approved Bill No. 33-0207 — An Act amending Virgin Islands Code by requiring persons teaching children in kindergarten-4 through third grade to have specific early childhood education requirements outlined by the Board of Education. The idea is to ensure that primary grade students receive a quality education as it requires the Board of Education to promulgate rules and regulations to support the criteria for the minimum requirements, and provide funding for early childhood educators to obtain the established minimum requirements.
Senators held in committee a Senator Janelle Sarauw-sponsored measure that seeks to change the start time of school to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Tags: mental health