Referrals to DHS Have Doubled

Commissioner Molloy, right, gave an update on Labor programs for youth Friday. Shenika Sebastien, director of Youth and Apprenticeship, is on the left. (Photo from Legislative Livestream)

Kimberly Causey-Gomez, commissioner of the Department of Human Services, told the Committee on Culture, Youth, Aging, Sports, and Parks Friday that her department was receiving more referrals than her department could serve. She cited staff and funding shortages.

She said referrals have doubled since the pandemic ended.

One of the populations that DHS serves is the elderly and several senators pointed out that the population is growing. Sen. Ray Fonseca said that about 20 percent of the territory’s population was elderly or about 18,400 people. He said for that number of elderly, statistics show there should be 560 beds in long-term health care facilities (nursing homes) and there were only 70 in the territory. He said this caused elderly residents who need full-time care to be left in the hospital, a situation that hinders the primary functions of the hospital.

Gomez said the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged on St. Croix presently had 22 residents with 49 people on the waiting list. The facility can house 36 residents, but the department does not have the staff to handle that many.

The elderly are not the only residents on a waiting list. Testimony at the hearing indicated that there were 299 youngsters on a waiting list to get into Head Start.

No one is on the waiting list to get into the Youth Rehabilitation Center, but what is happening there was the target of many of the senators’ questions. (A comment on Livestream said that youths there were mistreated).

Sen. Franklin Johnson repeatedly asked what programs and activities were available to the youths at the Center.

Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin replied that there was a basketball court for outdoor activity, but it needed repair. She also said there were court-ordered counseling and programs that the youths had to attend.

She said YRC gets a “bad rap” and should not be considered in “a vacuum.” There are presently six youths in the facility. It can hold 30.

Sen. Milton Potter said the YRC model “might not be working, might not be effective for rehabilitation” and should be rethought.

Under DHS, the Division of Senior Citizen Affairs supervises eleven programs assisting the elderly. Seniors can seek assistance in programs such as Homemaker Services, Senior Community Services Employment Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Family Caregiver Support Program, Foster Grandparent Program, State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program, Adult Protective Services, Information and Referrals, and Elderly Nutrition Program.

Gary Molloy, commissioner of the Department of Labor, also testified at the committee hearing. He gave updates on Labor’s career path opportunities and services, namely the Summer Youth Work Experience, Labor Investing for Tomorrow, Internship Program, the Career Exploration Program, and Jobs for America Graduates.

He said 800 youths are involved in the Labor programs with 694 of those in the Summer Youth Work Experience Program.