Gov. Kenneth Mapp on Saturday replaced acting Human Services Commissioner Anita Roberts, who has faced intense criticism for abruptly moving some residents of St. Thomas’s Sea View Nursing Home without coordinating with families and other agencies,
Mapp appointed Felicia Blyden, a career Human Services employee, to take over the department. According to Government House, Blyden has been with Human Services for 26 years, most recently as administrator for Disabilities and Rehabilitation Services.
Echoing a copy of Blyden’s resume sent out with its press release, Government House described Blyden as an "energetic professional with hands-on management experience in the department."
She holds a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a bachelor’s degree in social work from the from the University of the Virgin Islands. In 2006, Blyden was named Human Services’ employee of the year.
The change comes just a few days after Roberts sent out a "DHS Report Card," highlighting the agency’s recent activities, which could suggest an effort to forestall the change.
Roberts’ tenure erupted into controversy after she ordered the abrupt move of 10 residents of troubled Sea View Nursing Home, without coordinating with families. Her decision appeared to have been prompted by her misreading a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The chain of events leading to the scandal began with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertifying Sea View and soon after, on July 30, 2016, stopping federal reimbursement for care. Those reimbursements accounted for 55 percent of Sea View’s funding. The other 45 percent is from the V.I. government.
The loss of funding dealt a blow to its already wobbly financial condition, putting it in default on its mortgage, which is through HUD.
On Sept. 24, Human Services received a letter demanding a plan for moving the residents of the facility within 24 hours. On Sept. 26, ambulances arrived and 10 residents were moved; three to Schneider Regional Medical Center and seven to the Queen Louise Home for the Aged, without prior notice to the residents, their families or Sea View. The letter specifically requested a plan to move patients rather than the immediate movement of patients.
Roberts apologized on several occasions for the distress caused to family members but continued to insist the patients needed to be moved immediately.
“It was and is my position that the seriousness of this letter of demand called for immediate action," she told the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee in October
"After much consultation with the attorney general, Claude Walker, and the commissioner of health, Michelle Davis, over the weekend, I immediately arranged for a conference call on Monday with the various entities," including HUD and some members of her "executive team" during the weekend. Roberts said they approved a plan and “that plan of action was approved and sanctioned by the staff of HUD that participated on the telephone call."
In the October Senate hearing, Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly asked, "The letter (from HUD) says they are asking for a plan … Did you interpret the letter from HUD to mean you needed to move the patients immediately?"
Roberts said, "I interpreted the letter to mean to move the patients with a plan immediately."
Sen. Janette Millin Young asked how it was legal to move the residents without their consent and without notice.
Roberts said, "I was advised that I did not need consent."
Asked who advised her, she said the attorney general told her she had the authority.
Walker confirmed that he advised her she had the authority. But he also insisted he did not direct her to do so and that he did not have the authority to direct her.
Mapp previously called Robert’s handling of the move "insensitive." (See: Mapp Tells Sea View Families Move Was ‘Insensitive’ in Related Links below)
Family members of residents who were moved have remained highly critical of Roberts.
Roberts previously served as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, with oversight of the Federal Grants Management Unit. She holds a doctorate in education from Walden University, graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in behavioral organization from Kaplan University and received her bachelor of arts in criminal justice from Northeastern University in Boston.