Misinformation spread by a St. Croix radio host prompted Gov. Kenneth Mapp Wednesday to re-instate his weekly public press briefings, in which he and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials spoke about the federal government’s commitment to local recovery efforts and gave updates on everything from Senate relations to hospital rebuilding.
While commending radio host Mario Moorhead for his engagement with the public on post-hurricane issues, Mapp said the broadcaster’s statements that FEMA intends to pull out of the territory in March are false. The governor also assured residents that even though they might not qualify for disaster assistance offered through one FEMA program, it doesn’t mean they will not qualify for another.
Mapp announced the launch next week of the Emergency Home Repairs V.I. Project, in which owners of damaged homes who have a FEMA registration number can apply for relief. This program is different from the permanent home repair program or the Blue Roof program, and Mapp encouraged residents who have been previously disapproved to apply again under the Emergency Home Repairs V.I. Project.
This new program, Mapp said, is being funded through FEMA and administered through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority. Under it, Mapp said:
– As much as $75,000 can be spent in direct repairs to the home.
– Residents still working on insurance claims have up to a year to settle them and apply.
– Subcontractors can apply for jobs. Public outreach will be done in conjunction with the Department of Labor to inform contractors of the specifics and job fairs will be organized.
Mapp said renters are not covered under the program but, realizing that many residents renting properties are still living in damaged housing, the government is working with FEMA to see if they could be added.
Speaking at the end of Wednesday’s news conference, FEMA’s Bill Vogel also reinforced the agency’s commitment to recovery efforts.
“FEMA is not leaving in the middle of March,” he said. “We will leave when the territory has decided we have done our job. We don’t have a deadline to leave.”
Vogel said the FEMA has 534 federal responders on island to help with the recovery. To date, the agency has paid out $713.8 million in public disbursements for the territory, including $60 million for housing assistance.
Health and Hospitals
Mapp said he met with this week with senators to discuss questions about the state of the territory’s hospitals and Myrah Keating Clinic on St. John. Speaking candidly during the Wednesday briefing, the governor said the territory was not as “far along” in the process of finding solutions as he would like. Modular units are being ordered for set up, but in the meantime, Mapp said temporary solutions still have to be provided more quickly so that the government can stop evacuating patients to the mainland for serious issues.
Called to the forefront for an update, Health Commissioner Michelle Davis announced a three phase approach.
Phase one, she said, includes working with hospital and medical partners in the states to bring in mobile units that can be set up in the hospitals’ parking lots. This includes mobile emergency rooms, operating rooms and dialysis centers. Davis said that after visits to the territory by different state representatives – who looked at both hospitals sites to see if the equipment they have could fit – she hopes these mobile units will be on the ground in the Virgin Islands within the next month.
The second phase is the ordering, construction and installation of temporary modular units that can deliver all of the hospitals’ vital services, including emergency care, labor and deliver, labs and pharmacies. With these buildings also in the parking lots, the government will have time to plan out phase three, which Davis said includes the development of downsized, more resilient, state of the art hospitals.
Modular units also will be brought in within the next three to four months, depending on the site, for the Department of Health. At Charles Harwood on St. Croix, the units will be set up behind the current site, while on St. Thomas, modulars for the Department of Health will be set up at Schneider Regional Medical Center. For Myrah Keating, the modular, which is expected in three months, will also be set up in the parking lot.
In the meantime, Health will pilot a mobile paramedic program on St. Croix in which EMTs visiting from Arkansas will work with local responders to pay home visits to patients who have recently been transported to the hospital. The outreach includes follow ups on medication and other services, along with public education because, Davis said, “we don’t want people going to the emergency room if it’s not necessary.”