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Thursday 21 November 2019
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Ex-minister calls for mental health task force

A SORT officer leads a client out of the Transformed Life Ministries rehabilitation centre in Arouca last Wednesday. FILE PHOTO
A SORT officer leads a client out of the Transformed Life Ministries rehabilitation centre in Arouca last Wednesday. FILE PHOTO

After days of reports about a privately owned rehabilitation centre in Arouca, from where police removed 69 clients, former minister of the people Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh wants Government to take the next step and address mental illness.

He recommends a task force to looking into the mental health care.

“The Government must now step up. What did they do? What did you do proactively and what will you do futuristically? They should put together a task force, look at what was done and do it better," Ramadharsingh told Sunday Newsday.

Last Wednesday, the Special Operations Response Team (SORT), led by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith raided Transformed Life Ministries (TML) rehabilitation centre in Arouca.

Of the 69, two were said to be back with their families, one taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex for a non-psychological condition, and the rest were taken to the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital.

Griffith had described the scenario as modern-day slavery and human trafficking, which TLM founder pastor Glen Awong denied. On Friday, the commissioner said reports of five deaths at the institution will be probed.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh at a press conference, hours after the raid, said TLM was in the process of improving the standard of its operations for it to be registered as an approved home. On July 1, ministry officials visited and outlined several infrastructural, practical and administrative flaws with the institution. These included poor lighting, poor record keeping and inadequate staff. Deyalsingh said the flaws were being addressed, and this was evidenced by the institution putting out ads for psychiatric nurses up to two weeks ago.

Sunday Newsday visited the centre yesterday and met Awong who said he was on his Sabbath. The Seventh-day Adventist pastor was with a few of his worshippers having a meal. He said he spent some time “destroying Satan” and promised to speak more on the issue at another date.

Asked if he was open for business, Awong said he was never closed. He added his clients were taken but he was never given any orders from anyone to shut down and, in the meantime, he will adhere to the recommendations made by the Health Ministry officials who visited his establishment in June.

Sunday Newsday also spoke with former health minister Dr Fuad Khan who said he was drafting new legislation to assist the mentally ill. Khan who had proposed selling the St Ann’s hospital back in 2012, said there was a draft mental health act that that never got past the planning phase while he was a minister between 2010 to 2015.

The introduction of community mental health centres was a brainchild under his leadership and there were proposals for at least two decentralised institutions to deal with the mentally ill in Arima and Couva. “The main thrust was to deal with St Ann’s hospital to have it refurbished and have the community mental health facilities. I was not happy with St Ann’s with how it looked and smelled. There were 80 per cent of the people there that are not mental health but social cases. That was a serious problem at St Ann's.”

Khan added that one of the current issues surrounding mental health and people being institutionalised was the bureaucracy. The proposed law, if it was passed would, have taken this into consideration, he said.

Presently mentally ill people can only be institutionalised if they decide to be, or if mandated by a court or if found wandering in a public place, Khan said. His aim was to remove the “right” of the mentally ill person to choose to be institutionalised. Khan said the incident that took place on Wednesday re-emphasised the fact that the current legislation is out dated.

Ramadharsingh, whose ministry funded the TLM for year, paying the institution over $7 million, and owing over $1 million, according to Awong’s lawsuit, questioned what happens now that funding has been stopped.

“What happens with the people, what next? You will have the backward backyard kind of operation taking place. Just saying that you took away the funding isn’t enough, if it was not up to scratch you get them there or you make arrangements to get the people moved elsewhere. “

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