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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
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Senate Panel Pulls Plug on Malpractice Reform

Senators considering the territory’s malpractice insurance system decided Friday that the system might need some adjustments – but not those contained in the two bills up for debate.

The Senate’s Health and Hospital Committee spent most of the day Friday listening to testimony on two bills that would alter the malpractice system with an eye toward making it easier for people to pursue a claim if they’ve been injured by a medical error. The bills, 29-0093 and 29-0152, were sponsored by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who spoke passionately about people who had lost their sight, a limb or even their life, without being able to find recompense from the system.

But a contingent of physicians, lawyers, patient advocates and other health officials helped convince the committee that the first measure would cause more trouble than it would solve, and the second addresses something that hasn’t proven to be a problem. The committee voted to table both bills indefinitely.

The first bill, 29-0093, would eliminate government-provided financial assistance premiums given to hospital-employed physicians who work in the private sector on a part-time basis.

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Alice Taylor, chief executive officer of Schneider Regional Medical Center, said she has a difficult enough time recruiting specialists for the hospital. Eliminating the assistance would make matters that much more difficult, she said.

"While we recognize the serious economic crisis that is driving this proposal, removing this subsidy now will cause our community to pay more for essential on-all services over the long term," she said. "Without the subsidy, SRMC would have to pay significantly higher salaries to keep our physicians – or the community will lose access to services such as emergency trauma care, newborn delivery, fracture care and heart attack and stroke treatment."

Also opposing the bill were Dr. Anne Treasure-Hodge, Denyce Singleton, director of the AARP of the Virgin Islands; Royette Russell, legal counsel of the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital; and Carl Richardson, chief legal counsel for the Department of Health. The benches of the Frits E. Lawaetz Conference Room in Frederiksted were notable for the number of white medical coats in the audience.

The second bill, 29-0152, would have allowed people to file medical malpractice claims in court without first going through the Medical Malpractice Review process. In this process, all claims are reviewed by a medical committee which weeds out frivolous suits and can lead the way to settlements without the cost of a lawsuit, according to Treasure-Hodge.

After listening to the testimony, Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly said the system might be in need of a comprehensive overhaul, but not a piecemeal approach.

Sen. Craig Barshinger added the caution that, "In the Virgin Islands we have something that’s working very well … we must be careful not to damage something that’s already working very well."

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Senators considering the territory's malpractice insurance system decided Friday that the system might need some adjustments – but not those contained in the two bills up for debate.

The Senate's Health and Hospital Committee spent most of the day Friday listening to testimony on two bills that would alter the malpractice system with an eye toward making it easier for people to pursue a claim if they've been injured by a medical error. The bills, 29-0093 and 29-0152, were sponsored by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who spoke passionately about people who had lost their sight, a limb or even their life, without being able to find recompense from the system.

But a contingent of physicians, lawyers, patient advocates and other health officials helped convince the committee that the first measure would cause more trouble than it would solve, and the second addresses something that hasn't proven to be a problem. The committee voted to table both bills indefinitely.

The first bill, 29-0093, would eliminate government-provided financial assistance premiums given to hospital-employed physicians who work in the private sector on a part-time basis.

Alice Taylor, chief executive officer of Schneider Regional Medical Center, said she has a difficult enough time recruiting specialists for the hospital. Eliminating the assistance would make matters that much more difficult, she said.

"While we recognize the serious economic crisis that is driving this proposal, removing this subsidy now will cause our community to pay more for essential on-all services over the long term," she said. "Without the subsidy, SRMC would have to pay significantly higher salaries to keep our physicians – or the community will lose access to services such as emergency trauma care, newborn delivery, fracture care and heart attack and stroke treatment."

Also opposing the bill were Dr. Anne Treasure-Hodge, Denyce Singleton, director of the AARP of the Virgin Islands; Royette Russell, legal counsel of the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital; and Carl Richardson, chief legal counsel for the Department of Health. The benches of the Frits E. Lawaetz Conference Room in Frederiksted were notable for the number of white medical coats in the audience.

The second bill, 29-0152, would have allowed people to file medical malpractice claims in court without first going through the Medical Malpractice Review process. In this process, all claims are reviewed by a medical committee which weeds out frivolous suits and can lead the way to settlements without the cost of a lawsuit, according to Treasure-Hodge.

After listening to the testimony, Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly said the system might be in need of a comprehensive overhaul, but not a piecemeal approach.

Sen. Craig Barshinger added the caution that, "In the Virgin Islands we have something that's working very well ... we must be careful not to damage something that's already working very well."