Roaming mental patients continue to worry Berbicians
By Daniel Da Costa
May 2, 2004
Over the years several persons have been attacked, robbed, harassed and intimidated by patients of the National Psychiatric Hospital at Fort Canje, New Amsterdam.
Several years ago a man was hit on the head by a roaming patient in the New Amsterdam market and subsequently died.
A few weeks ago a young girl was struck on the hand by a patient while on her way to afternoon classes in New Amsterdam.
This past week another patient made life quite uncomfortable for vendors in the vicinity of the New Amsterdam ferry stelling by threatening some, stealing from others and attempting to break into some stalls. A few weeks ago a patient broke the windscreen of a car in a fit of rage.
Over the years roaming psychiatric patients have been a major cause of concern for most Berbicians.
While some appear calm and docile, a few are violent and aggressive.
Following reports of the escapades of the male patient at the ferry stelling, nurse aides attempted to apprehend him earlier this week, but were forced to abort the effort because of his aggressive demeanour.
This evoked an angry response from vendors along the Matthew Allen (stelling) Road who accused the aides of abdicating their responsibilities.
However, the aides were subsequently ordered to solicit the assistance of the police to apprehend the patient. A senior health officer in the region told this newspaper that nurses and aides were fully aware that they should seek support from the police to apprehend patients who were violent.
One nurse aide told this newspaper, however, that they were only paid $500 per month risk allowance, and if they were injured or killed by a violent patient their relatives would not be compensated.
Every day patients from the institution can be seen around the municipal market, Pitt Street and other shopping areas soliciting money, food or cigarettes from passers-by.
Questions were raised recently about the quantity of food served to patients, and about conditions at the institution.
The present patient population stands at around 170, of whom 65 are female. According to an official at the institution, "Some patients are open-door therapy patients and are allowed to go for walks, but are not violent. When the violent ones are on medication they become quiet, yet we cannot keep them locked up all the time."
While some observers agree that the patients need recreation, they posit that this should be provided within the confines of the sprawling compound.
The compound at the junction of the Canje and Berbice Rivers on the northern edge of New Amsterdam once boasted a theatre, a canteen and one of the better grounds in the region.
The theatre and canteen have long since disappeared, while the ground is unfit for use.
In fact most Berbicians say this historical institution has lost its former splendour, beautiful landscape and grandeur owing to neglect, inadequate funding and poor management.
At least three patients told this newspaper that they were forced to roam the streets and beg because of the poor quality of food they received in addition to their financial needs.
"Our relatives rarely visit us, and as a result we do not get money to buy personal things - cigarettes, clothing, toiletries and some of the nice things that are sold in snackettes and the market," one explained.
Some even undertake odd jobs to earn cash, including running errands for both staff and some members of the public who may be familiar with them.
Another patient accused some staff members of creaming off food items leaving the remains for them, saying, "this is why some of us come out and beg."
Yet the nursing staff, according to one official, has been successful in apprehending a number of patients who had walked out of the institution and may have been loitering on the streets. The official, however, admitted that the institution was without the required staff to effectively monitor and supervise all of the patients.
Another problem faced by the administration is that some patients escape from the compound either by jumping over the perimeter fence or crawling through holes in sections of it.
The official refuted claims that meals supplied to patients were insufficient or of poor quality.
In a Comprehensive Com-munity Development Plan for New Amsterdam, compiled in 1994, CESO adviser, Jag Dhillon wrote: "... the quality of care and supervision is questionable as many patients stray into the town centre or are seen wondering along the highway.
It seems there is need to provide halfway house-type care facilities for patients who are not very sick and are on their way to normal mental health, but are still not capable of re-entering a normal family environment.
The hospital security needs to be improved for the safety of the patients and the public." The problems associated with mental care and security at the country's only Psychiatric hospital which have existed for decades will no doubt continue unless the necessary funding and resources are made available to alleviate the situation.
Meantime, Berbicians will continue to be wary and afraid of possible attacks from those violent patients who roam the streets almost on a daily basis.