While Department of Health officials shared some details about happenings at the department’s Morris F. deCastro Clinic recently, it seems much more has been going on inside the blue concrete building in Cruz Bay.
DOH officials recently fired an Advanced Practice Nurse at the clinic, the first nurse to be fired in the St. Thomas/St. John District. Firing the APN has wide-reaching impacts as she coordinated the Women’s Health and Family Planning program at the clinic and saw more than 1,500 patients last year alone.
DOH officials also recently transferred deCastro Clinic’s Licensed Practical Nurse — who assisted the APN with the Women’s Health and Family Planning — to St. Thomas. Those moves effectively halted all Women’s Health-related services at deCastro, from contraception to education.
The recently fired DOH employee coordinated the clinic’s Comprehensive Women’s Health Services, which included Pre-natal, Family Planning, STD, Well Women, Gynecology, the Let’s Talk teen risk reduction program and she even spent a day each week on St. Thomas providing pre-natal care.
The APN, who is also a certified nurse midwife, coordinated the Women’s Health and Family Planning program under a Title 10 federal grant which provided services to low income patients. The program offered free services to teenagers, free STD screenings and either free or deeply discounted supplies and treatments.
For example, a month’s supply of birth control pills used to cost $6 at the DOH clinic, according to a resident familiar with the situation who asked to not be identified.
If that same patient went to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center or a private doctor on St. John for contraception, she would have to pay for a doctor’s visit and then pay to fill a prescription for the pills, which cost between $30 and $65, according to the resident.
“Many people who went to the clinic got free services and treatments or they were put on a sliding scale fee,” said the resident. “Many people who used the services can’t afford to pay anything more. Hospital and private practice prices are much more expensive and that is not a realistic alternative for many people.”
Many patients who used the services at the deCastro Clinic are not capable of traveling to St. Thomas to the DOH clinic in Nisky Center for Women’s Health Services, explained the citizen.
“Many of the patients are undocumented and they can’t go to St. Thomas and they can’t afford any other health care options on St. John,” said the citizen.
Teenagers are another segment of the community who are most at risk by losing the Women’s Health Services on St. John, explained the resident.
“For teenagers looking for prevention and education services for Women’s Health and Family Planning, they will no longer be able to walk into deCastro after school,” said the citizen. “They will have to go all the way to Nisky Center on St. Thomas, which is not realistic for many teens.”
“Many people are very worried about the patients on St. John,” said the resident. “They have no where else to go.”
DeCastro’s Immunization Program will also be coming to an end at the end of March when the head of that program retires, according to the resident.
“Immunization will be done in a week and half,” said the citizen. “She’s retiring and that will be it.”
The Cruz Bay clinic also lost one of its two security guards, who was recently transferred to St. Thomas.
With DOH’s latest administrative actions, all that remains at the Cruz Bay clinic are the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, mental health and food handler’s card services. Also a perinatologist, who only deals with high-risk pregnancies, will continue to see patients at deCastro once a month.
While DOH spokesperson Eunice Bedminster recently told St. John Tradewinds that the department has no plans to shutter its Cruz Bay clinic, many residents are worried that is exactly what is about to occur.
“I think what is happening is that DOH is trying to keep the lid on these things and soon the whole clinic will close and they’ll move the EMS to the Fire Station,” said a resident familiar with DOH who asked to not be identified.
Whether or not the clinic remains open, DOH has not informed the St. John patients of the services no longer available at the clinic, according to the resident.
“They have not told anyone about these changes,” said the resident. “If you want those services available when you want them, they are not going to be there, no matter what DOH says.”