The Virgin Islands government is preparing to create housing for a few independent seniors and thus salvage what some people consider a white elephant: the former Massac Nursing Home.
Writing to the Source’s Answer Desk, Jane Higgins of St. Thomas asked about the status of the home on the island’s west end. Who owns it? And is it operating?
The answer is you, the taxpayer, own it. At the request of former Gov. Charles Turnbull, the Legislature appropriated $1.5 million in late 2005 to purchase the facility and hand it over to the Department of Human Services to run. In 2009, the Legislature approved another $47,640 to pay for repairs to the aging nursing facility, despite it not being in operation for “about four or five years,” according to Michal Rhymer-Charles, the Department of Human Services assistant commissioner for St. Thomas.
In fact, it really isn’t called the Massac Nursing Home anymore; it’s “DHS West.”
Human Services has responsibility for nursing homes in the territory; it runs the Herbert Grigg Home on St. Croix where there are approximately 50 people, and the Queen Louise Home on St. Thomas, with about 30 people, Rhymer said, noting that figures may vary somewhat from time to time. Additionally, the department provides nursing support services to about 25 people in the Lucinda Millin Home on St. Thomas, and to about 30 to 40 people at Whim Garden on St. Croix: both facilities are designed for people who don’t need nursing care.
“At any given time we have 30 to 50 people on a waiting list” for admission to a nursing home, Rhymer-Charles said. That doesn’t really describe the severity of the situation because that’s only people who know to apply. A community the size of the Virgin Islands should provide about 450 to 600 beds for nursing home patients, she said. What we have is 120.
The plan obviously had been to increase capacity with the purchase of the Massac Center, but Rhymer-Charles said the facility’s “architectural design” is not appropriate for a nursing home, and it has never received certification from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“Financially, we’re at a very difficult time,” she noted. There is not enough money to reconvert the facility, but there is enough to make what she called “minor repairs” to windows, floors, and cracks in the wall to make it habitable. Those repairs are underway and should be completed in about two months, she added.
Rhymer would not say how much the current repairs are expected to cost, but did say the bill should be less than the $47,000 for the earlier fix-up.
Human Services has already identified some of its existing clients who it will move into the facility. It plans to house “four to six people” initially, Rhymer-Charles said. These are seniors who are able to live independently, but who essentially are “homeless” without the support of Human Services.
Staff will visit the facility and offer assistance in a number of ways, but will not live there. The residents will have to cook and care for themselves, and also do their own shopping and errand-running.
There has been some criticism that the facility is in a somewhat isolated area, but Rhymer-Charles said the area is serviced by Dial-a-Ride, and “it’s right on the bus route” for the Vitran public bus system, so residents will be able to get around.