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Health / News / Virgin Islands / January 21, 2019

Taking his first veto action on bills as leader of the Virgin Islands, Governor Albert Bryan has vetoed two measures forwarded to him following the 32nd Legislature’s last session in December, one related to dental therapists and another on the resale of timeshares in the territory.

Mr. Bryan vetoed a bill sponsored by former Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, which sought to expand access to dental care by permitting dental therapists to practice under the general supervision of a dentist and only at the public health clinics. Mrs. Rivera-O’Reilly had lobbied Mr. Bryan to approve the measure, stating that it was supported by the Department of Health commissioner at the time, as well as the Department of Human Services (D.H.S.).

Mr. Bryan, however, vetoed the bill, contending that he agreed with testimony given by the American Dental and the V.I. Dental Association, the V.I. Board of Dental Examiners and local dentists to have merit and out of genuine concern for the health and safety of the public.

“With this bill, a dental therapist will be permitted to perform dental procedures with potentially life-threatening medical consequences and have the ability to perform irreversible surgical procedures, administer anesthesia and issue a prescription without the oversight of a licensed dental professional and after just three months training,” the governor wrote. He also asked the 33rd Legislature to repeal Act No. 8150, recently enacted on January 6, 2019, which provides for the Board of Dental Examiners to include dental therapist within their jurisdiction since this category will not be defined or provided for in Virgin Islands Code.

Mrs. Rivera-O’Reilly had addressed those concerns in a letter to Mr. Bryan, but it does not appear to have had an impact on his decision. In the letter, Mrs. Rivera-O’Reilly explained: “Dental therapists have been used for centuries in countries like New Zealand and Australia. Most recently, states across the country are expanding dental services to the poor and uninsured and passed legislation allowing dental therapists to perform limited but important procedures. These professionals are college educated and must complete several hundred hours of training under the direct supervision of a dentist before they are allowed to perform within their limited scope,” Mrs. Rivera-O’Reilly wrote in the letter.

The letter added, “…Dental therapists are able to see young children who present with caries as well as adults who require fillings and other basic procedures. Dental therapists are trained extensively in specific procedures and may only practice under a collaborative agreement with a licensed dentist. Dental therapists are also required to be licensed and to complete continuing education courses. Because this bill only allows dental therapist to function at the clinics, it does not compete with private dentists. In fact, according to testimony offered by D.H.S., dental therapists will help the territory access and fully utilize the more than $100 million of unmatched Medicaid funds. It is worth noting that D.H.S. has been unable to expend these funds because private dentists do not accept M.A.P. Since dental therapists earn salaries lower than dentists, the clinics will be able to ramp up services and finally address the waiting list.”

The bill was projected to help some 25,600 Virgin Islanders in need of it dental care.

Aside from vetoing the dental therapist measure, the governor also vetoed Bill 32-0351, the Virgin Islands Timeshare Resale Act and requested that the Legislature act on a comprehensive overhaul of the timeshare sales regime to include ownership rights, sales protocols, licensing and regulation of salespersons, property taxation and reporting and foreclosure.

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Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at [email protected].

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