Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, said that an audit is to be conducted on the island's sole mental health institution, the Bellevue Hospital in East Kingston.
This audit, he explained, is to determine the extent of intervention needed to reform and restructure the facility, including upgrading of infrastructure, in order to improve operations and the quality of service to its clients.
The announcement comes against the background of media reports, which raised questions about the quality of care being delivered to patients.
Speaking with journalists during a tour of the institution on Tuesday Jan. 31,
Dr. Ferguson said based on his observations and what he gleaned from discussions with the staff, there are “serious structural challenges” at the facility.
He noted that a significant number of the buildings on the over 60-acre property were constructed “a long time ago,” pointing to leaking roofs as among the structural challenges. The institution was built in the mid 19th Century, with the most recent construction activity taking place in 1994.
Dr. Ferguson also pointed to challenges with the ratio of staff to patients. He informed that the hospital has approximately 800 patients, and a total staff complement of 674. He said, however that of the latter, only 15 were doctors, with another 150 being nurses.
While not committing to a timeline for the audit, Dr. Ferguson said it would be determined by the circumstances at Bellevue. A meeting involving the Minister and staff and officials of the Ministry, the hospital, and South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), was held following Tuesday’s tour, during which they were slated to discuss audit’s parameters, and the mandate to the person(s) undertaking the exercise. This, he added, is to ensure “that we can get the best”.
“Whatever the findings of the audit, I am one who believes in joined-up government and it is to that extent that all (the responses) will not reside, necessarily, in the Ministry of Health. It might, (for example involve) the Ministry of Labour and Security, so we are going to be looking at all possibilities,” he stated.
Dr. Ferguson also advised that the Ministry is in the process of appointing a new board at Bellevue. He was quick to point out, however, that this is not an indication of any culpability on the part of the former board, but is a “natural process with a change of government”. He also had high commendations for the work of the staff.
“As you know, the mentally challenged are not the easiest patients to manage and even with the staff/patient or client ratio, they have done well in dealing with the situation,” Dr. Ferguson said.
By Douglas McIntosh