On August 26th, 2015, Kaieteur News reported that Eda, a female patient of the National Psychiatric Hospital, was murdered during a fight with another patient. According to the article, the fight occurred in a secluded room where the deceased, the attacker, and a third patient were placed because they had all been exhibiting aggressive behaviour. It was alleged that only one nurse was on duty in the ward when this tragedy occurred, and it is unclear whether she was aware of the fight and attempted to intervene.
A few days after this incident became public, the then Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, told Stabroek News that “[a]n investigation has been launched into the incident so that we can tell the nation exactly what happened,” (Probe Under-way Into Death of Patient at Psychiatric Hospital, September 2nd, 2015).
Almost three years later, the nation still awaits the findings of this investigation promised by the Ministry of Public Health – if it was ever conducted in the first place.
It is also unclear whether the Guyana Police Force was appropriately informed of this incident and allowed to conduct a thorough investigation. In fact, Kaieteur News reported on August 27, 2015 that the hospital failed to report the murder to the police, who learned of the incident after reading about it in the newspapers.
During the intervening period, Stabroek News, in an editorial entitled “Accountability to Patients in the Public Health System,” (September 28, 2015) called for the Minister of Public Health to release the findings into Eda’s death, “[a]s a means of understanding the depths to which mental care in this country has sunk.” That call was ignored. I also personally attempted on multiple occasions to obtain updates from Dr. Norton’s office, and other officials about “the investigation.” All my attempts were futile.
I suspected then, and am convinced now, that our silence about the crisis in the mental health system has created an environment where leaders feel totally unaccountable to anyone, and the nation as a whole, for even the most egregious human rights violations of individuals with various forms of mental illnesses.
The response of the Ministry of Public Health to Eda’s death is troubling because it highlights the low value placed on human lives in Guyana. This is not the first murder that occurred at the institution, and it is unclear whether appropriate measures have since been taken to minimize the risk of harm to patients in the care of the state.
More than ever, it is critical that our outdated mental health legislation is updated to end the lack of transparency and accountability that exists in our mental health system, and to provide adequate protection to our brothers and sisters accessing services.
It is also past time for the findings into Eda’s death to be made public to ensure that others do not suffer a similar fate. As a result, I call on the current Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, to do the right thing and provide a complete update to the nation on this incident.