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By Carlena Knight

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Plans are underway to construct a new state-of-the-art mental hospital in Antigua and Barbuda.

This was revealed by Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph on Tuesday during the ceremony to rename the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) after National Hero, Sir Lester Bird.

Sir Molwyn said that the Clarevue — the sole mental health care facility in the country — was ill-equipped to satisfy the mental health needs of the country, and revealed that plans are already in place to begin the process of constructing the new edifice.

“Like Holberton [Hospital] not being a purpose-built facility for secondary and tertiary care for its individuals, so is the Clarevue Hospital not being a purpose-built facility. I have, in the last few weeks, discussed it with some senior members within my ministry and I have asked them to arrange to visit a purpose-built facility, preferably in the US, because they are quite advanced, take an architect and an engineer to see how a purpose-built mental health facility infrastructure is established. This to me is on the top of my priority and it has always been,” he added.

Sir Molwyn explained that it is a long overdue necessity as mental health is just as important as any other area under the Ministry of Health.

“When I reflected, back in 1998 I made that appeal and this is 2021, so you can see the level of urgency,” he said.

“What I noticed when I assumed the position of Minister of Health is that the whole issue of public health had a segregation between the MSJMC healthcare and mental health; I thought that was wrong. Public health involves all human health including mental health as well and so I made this public appeal because I am expecting that the government would respond with some level of urgency. We need to address the issue of establishing an appropriate infrastructure.”

The conditions at Clarevue have come under the microscope in recent years.

In 2019, staff protested for weeks due to unsuitable working conditions at the Skerrit’s Pasture facility while just last year, a probe was launched after it was reported that there were short supplies of food for the patients.

The institution has the capacity to house 130 patients and treats some of the common types of disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse (psychosis) and attention deficit disorder.

The hospital was constructed in 1929 to accommodate more patients as the facility built in 1841 on Rat Island could not comfortably house the increasing number of mentally ill persons on the island.

It was renamed the Clarevue Hospital in 2011 and features six wards including a Maximum-Security ward for the most acute patients.