U.S. Virgin Islands America’s Paradise Features
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Features  |   November 01, 2008
U.S. Virgin Islands
Author Notes
  • Patricia G Meyer, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist and certified orofacialmyologist, is the owner of St. Croix Speech Pathology and Orofacial Myology. Contact her at trish@jimtown.org.
    Patricia G Meyer, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist and certified orofacialmyologist, is the owner of St. Croix Speech Pathology and Orofacial Myology. Contact her at trish@jimtown.org.×
Article Information
International & Global / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2008
U.S. Virgin Islands
The ASHA Leader, November 2008, Vol. 13, 21. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.13162008.21
The ASHA Leader, November 2008, Vol. 13, 21. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.13162008.21
After 25 years of living in Colorado but still dreaming of my southern California childhood, I followed a small inner voice that said, “Why not?” when my favorite otolaryngologist bought a practice and moved his family to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2004. Having missed the Pacific Ocean since moving to Boulder for graduate school, it didn’t take much for me to ask if a speech-language pathologist was needed on the island.
Just 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the 50 islands and cays that make up the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. Each of the three major islands—St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas—possesses a character all its own.
St. Croix is 84 square miles and the largest of the three islands. After Christopher Columbus arrived on his second voyage to the New World, sugar and rum shaped the island’s life and land. After the sugar industry declined in the 1960s, tourism became more important to the island, which is now considered one of the world’s top scuba-diving destinations. Seven flags have flown over St. Croix as it was colonized by Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, the Knights of Malta, Denmark, and the United States.
Practicing speech-language pathology in St. Croix has been a challenge, with experiences reminiscent of my early years as a clinician. In the United States, specialization is beneficial for private practice, but in the Virgin Islands, it’s the opposite. I am the only SLP in private practice who can bill insurance, so I treat the full range of communication disorders including autism, learning disabilities, articulation, and dysphagia. I practice in an otolaryngology office, a pediatrician’s office, and in several private schools.
The 10 SLPs in St. Croix work primarily in the schools, with one clinician working for a home care/hospice agency. St. Thomas has about the same number of clinicians in the same work settings. Only three audiologists practice in the Virgin Islands, and clinicians experienced in pediatrics are needed.
Staff shortages are a major issue in the Virgin Islands, where there is little funding for school-based personnel, materials, and current assessment tools. Salary equity is another issue—school-based SLPs are paid at the same rate as teachers. Consequently, few clinicians are employed by the Department of Education; most are contracted from a health care staffing agency. There is no state board or licensure for audiologists or SLPs in the Virgin Islands; however, private practitioners must obtain a business license, a process that involves a review and recommendation by the health department. A strong preferred-provider network also has credentialing requirements for clinicians billing private health insurance plans.
The Virgin Islands, especially St. Croix, offer a vibrant multicultural mix of African, Indian, Caribbean, South American, British, Danish, Arab, and American cultures, to name a few. This diversity is exhilarating, but the cultural mix can also be challenging, as cultures may view disability in different ways. Many individuals are denied services because of either a lack of practitioners or the cultural stigma attached to special needs. Given the demographics as well as the history of the Virgin Islands, a rich resource exists for research on the genetic and cultural influences on communication disorders and disease. More information can be found at the United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism’s Web site.
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November 2008
Volume 13, Issue 16