To say that the death of a mental health patient inside a Philipsburg holding cell (see related story) warrants an in-depth investigation is stating the obvious. However, the matter also raises questions about the treatment in general of people with psychotic behaviour often sparked by drug abuse who pose a threat to themselves and/or others.
The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) clinic at Cay Hill cannot handle these when they become aggressive and even violent, so there is an agreement with the House of Detention to keep them in an assigned cell at the police station. They are monitored by prison guards and visited by the clinic’s psychiatrist as well as nurses, but that did not prevent last week’s fatal incident.
Attorney Sjamira Roseburg, present when this tragic discovery was made, in the Friday/Saturday edition called what happened very unfortunate and unacceptable. She said keeping such persons detained not only – possibly – against their will but without 24/7 supervision should never be allowed.
According to her, if the – currently overcrowded – MHF was unable to accommodate him, this could have been done at, for example, rehabilitation centre Turning Point. The lawyer did acknowledge that a proper facility for similar cases should be established urgently.
“St. Maarten needs a crazy house” read a front-page headline of The Guardian newspaper in the mid-1990s. Although many considered the wording callous at the time, it did illustrate a growing nuisance problem felt within the community already then.
Two other deaths among MHF patients within the past year are under review by the Public Health Inspectorate. One victim was reportedly in solitary confinement at MHF and a second had been rushed to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) after falling ill at home.
It seems the standard emergency injection cocktail containing haloperidol to sedate unruly individuals is not without danger especially to the heart. There are also indications that the doses administered locally are double what is usually given in the Netherlands during a crisis.
MHF does not treat youngsters either and lacks the relevant expertise to do so since terminating its contract with child psychiatrist Ilse Kelbrick, who had gone to court for arrears in payment. Her employment permit was subsequently withdrawn by government, but she is the only one on the Dutch side with the necessary experience in this field.
One must conclude that more will be needed when it comes to taking care of the mentally disadvantaged, including better special education. Ultimately, that is the responsibility of society as a whole.