Our Readers' Opinions
December 23, 2016
Orange Hill vs Glen – a patient’s perspective

by Colin King

Patient RJ dreaded to move to Orange Hill three years ago, as did many of the semi to permanent residents of the Glen Mental Health Centre. To make matters worse, the week we were scheduled to move (finally after at least six postponements), RJ came down with Chikungunya.

Three years later, as we prepared to move back to Glen, RJ wished with all his heart that patients had been given a say in terms of what the final outcome of the two locations would be.{{more}}

He would choose Orange Hill any day. Almost all of the patients concur. Life in Orange Hill was vastly different from the experience patients had in Glen. To begin with, the farmers, labourers and other Orange Hill locals embraced the patient population, both indoors and outdoors. In no time at all, outpatients were employed as assistants to the agrarian folks.

Crime in Orange Hill was virtually nil and the poorer, working class, blue collar workers found they had much in common with the outpatients; friendships and relationships were forged.

The temporary housing for the patients was very well conceived (a comparison to the new Glen facility will be given later), there was breathing room, and a hostel- type atmosphere was to be had.

However, in due course, incidents of overcrowding came into play. This caused instances of fighting, and a destructive impact on the internal surroundings. Many nurses and more ‘elevated-of-intellect’ patients felt that the criminal element should not have been housed at Orange Hill MHC, but should have been the priority in prison incarcerations.

That notwithstanding, patient smiles and peace of mind came into play, palpable to the observer, for the duration.

Senior nursing officer Diana Bailey scored big with the introduction of the sports programme and its director, Arrington Burgin, was a definite plus.

Patients, usually locked down, experienced the ambience of greener, fresher, environmentally more friendly surroundings in the camraderie cricket and soccer. Sadly, the programme petered out gradually towards no activity at all, at the end of the Orange Hill phase.

A sign of disproportion and trouble occurred in a pivotal and controversial movement by some members of staff, in terms of free transportation for patients on the government owned buses.

Patients with very limited financial access now had to pay their own way (as much as EC$14), using public transportation which traditionally had and has been hostile, discriminatory and degrading of the ‘mentally ill’ traveller. To my mind, it was symptomatic of an element which needs to be thoroughly expunged from the MHC experience, of unfeeling, unsympathetic attitudes to the ‘real issues’ which patients face.

Two of these individuals (staff members) were at the centre of a random act of cruelty to patients, involving alleged alcoholism, and plain mean-spiritedness.

One of these workers was, pending a visit to the Ministry of Health, ‘forgiven’ by the patient elements involved and became one of the better acclimatized-to-patients/staff relations, which I ascribe once again to the more humane location at Orange Hill. Staff still needs more compassion, patience, and a stiff neck towards serving the patients and there is also a need for education not covered by a nursing programme in public and personal relations.

So, we now have in effect the relocation of the facility to the renovated Glen. Cosmetically, superficially, it has a five-star look. However, I look beyond these superficialities to observe ‘the bigger element’ in its design. Overcrowding still very much exists, and a paranoiac approach to dealing with the patients by some members of staff.

Hygienically, and cosmetically it is an improvement (left to see if it will stand the test of time with the overcrowding element not necessarily so). We have in effect a Florida-US-European style prison facility, with all the trappings of anti-crime, whereas 80 per cent circa of the patient population are there because they are ill and have committed no crime! At present, recreation for patients is zero.

In terms of the staff, to my surprise, one senior member of staff attempted to remove my outside privileges, when I, in terms of my approach to journalizing that the MHC is indirectly responsible for a raising of awareness, and giving not only patients, but also staff a voice for their issues (I am asking the journalistic element in SVG to keep a close eye on this situation).

Because I will not turn to criminal activity to find housing and shelter needs, and can only avail myself of what the Government offers as an alternative, I have a right, as the antithesis of such criminal personalities, who are housed on 24/7 lockdown, to be offered my freedom. To those of you who observed the opening ceremony on TV and in print media, you could not see what the golden facility looks like with living, breathing human patients. The Orange Hill spark of vitality and hope is completely gone.

Signing out, I reiterate the optimism. Keep hope alive.