This letter is written to clear the name of the Black Psychiatrists of America, Inc. (BPA) in response to erroneous information that was contained in the article, “St. Thomas jail psychiatrist still working after August resignation,” in the Oct. 14, 2020 edition of your newspaper.
The article noted: “The bureau has been trying to hire an additional psychiatrist for more than a year, and “regarding recruitment efforts, the territory contacted the Black Psychiatrists of America, Inc. This entity has not been responsive,” according to court documents filed in July 2019 by an attorney representing the Bureau in a federal consent decree case.”
This statement alleging that the BPA “has not been responsive,” is false. From May 2018 to July, the BPA’s CEO and Medical Director, the late Dr. Patricia Newton, and I met regularly with the Department of Health and USVI Behavioral Health Coalition of mental health professionals and disability rights advocates to discuss ways to bring more psychiatric services to the territory. In October 2019, Health named BPA to receive a sole source contract of over $1 million through a [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] SERG grant [SAMHSA Emergency Response Grant] to provide psychiatric services to the territory including the Bureau of Prisons.
BPA acted in good faith throughout the contract negotiations process with Health. BPA developed a scope of work to provide psychiatric services to USVI including court-involved individuals. However, the contract was delayed due to a dispute about language required by the USVI Department of Property and Procurement that made payment for services contingent upon availability of funds thereby placing the doctors of BPA at risk of not receiving payment for services rendered. That delay almost caused the grant to be lost. It was extended under the condition that BPA would not be the only contractee, and as we understand it, that some of the grant funds be expended on other needs. Despite that, BPA continued to work in earnest recognizing the need.
The attorneys for BPA and Health reached verbal agreement about how contract language could be revised or explained to satisfy both parties. What remained was the need to change the scope of work due to the reduction in funds. BPA submitted several recommendations, but they were not responded to. Again, time lapsed that could have put the grant in jeopardy. In the end, in an email on July 14, 2020, an official from Health stated that the agency would not pursue the contract with BPA due to the short time remaining. Thus, BPA was written out of the contract altogether after two years of working with the Behavioral Health Coalition and Health. Ultimately, changing staff and lack of communication from Health leaders prevented the BPA from providing services to the people of USVI including court-involved people in the Bureau of Prisons.
— Dr. Annelle B. Primm is the former deputy director of the American Psychiatric Association, Council of Elders, and the Black Psychiatrists of America, Inc.