Virgin Islands nursing home fights CMS order to move residents to mainland U.S.

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The only licensed nursing home in the U.S. Virgin Islands has filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as a last-ditch effort to prevent the agency from shuttering the facility and moving residents to mainland facilities.

Sea View Nursing Home in St. Thomas filed the suit on Monday, arguing that relocating residents if the facility closes could be life-threatening. The suit seeks a restraining order to prevent CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services from cutting off its Medicaid payments, which it is currently scheduled for May 4.

Sea View worked out a settlement with CMS last year, saying it would work to find a qualified candidate to buy and manage the facility after the agency found a series of deficiencies. The facility's operator, St. Thomas Nursing Home Prime Limited Partnership, claims it has made efforts to do so, but CMS has been “thwarting” those efforts, the St. Thomas Source reported.

“CMS' imposition of certain onerous conditions has severely hampered such negotiations,” wrote Alfred Heath, M.D., the facility's co-founder and former medical director, wrote in an affidavit supporting the suit. “In particular, CMS' refusal to reconsider the denial of payment for new admissions … made it impossible to execute a temporary management agreement or binding contract of sale or lease-purchase agreement.”

Residents' family members filed affidavits in support of Sea View's suit, saying that moving residents to a facility in the mainland U.S. would make it hard to arrange visits and transportation to appointments, cut off contact with family and staff members at Sea View, and endanger their health.

CMS advised Sea View residents to make sure their advance directives are “brought up to date” before a possible location, wrote one attorney for the facility in an affidavit. The agency also noted that it would not cover the cost of returning a resident's body to the Virgin Islands if the resident passes away after relocation.

“Being relocated to a strange and unfamiliar environment will be confusing for her,” one resident's daughter wrote in her affidavit. “Physically I do not believe my mother would survive relocation.”