(CMR) The Minister for Health and Wellness, Sabrina Turner said the Government is committed to ensuring that a fully functional residential mental facility is opened as soon as possible. However, she said, contrary to reports, the facility in East End is not completed.
Minister Turner issued a statement clarifying claims recently made in the media regarding the completion of the Long Term Residential Mental Health project (LTMHF). Dr. Marc Lockhart resigned from the Mental Health Committee, stating that one of his concerns was the length of time it was taking to open the facility.
“As the Minister responsible for Health and Wellness, I reaffirm this Government’s commitment to ensuring a fully functioning, residential mental health facility on Grand Cayman is open and operational at the earliest possible opportunity. We all recognize the urgent necessity for this LTMHF to provide long overdue services to our community,” said Minister Turner.
The circumstances that led to Dr. Lockhart’s resignation prompted the Minister to undertake a review of the situation, which revealed a breakdown in the communication flow to the Minister.
Yesterday, Premier Wayne Panton and Minister Turner met with the outgoing Chairman of the Mental Health Commission (MHC). They discussed practical ways to accelerate the outstanding work in relation to staffing and operationalizing the LTMHF.
A new Chairperson for the MHC has been identified, and the individual has agreed to serve pending formal appointment by Cabinet. The new Chairperson is a current member of the MHC and has Dr. Lockhart’s full support.
Minister Turner said: “On behalf of the Government, I would like to thank Dr Lockhart for his decades of tireless service and contribution to advancing the cause of mental health in our community.”
She however said contrary to some suggestions, the construction of the LTMHF is not yet complete and is not anticipated to be so until sometime in March. Construction of the LTMHF is managed by Public Works Department (PWD) and has experienced multiple delays over the past two years.
PWD has explained that the main reason for the repeated delays was initially COVID-19 and subsequently supply chain issues. The LTMHF will also invariably require a phased opening, which may in itself take as much as a year to fully implement.
Since taking up the position of Minister for Health and Wellness less than two years ago in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hon. Minister Turner notes:
“I have had to prioritize what can only be described as the re-establishment of the Ministry of Health. I joined a team with no confirmed Chief Officer, no Deputy Chief Officer, and only two policy advisors dedicated to health, and this lean team had worked almost exclusively on the national management of COVID-19 since early 2020.”
“For years, the Health Ministry has been severely understaffed due to budget cuts, hiring freezes and other constraints which negatively impacted its internal capacity. Today, we have a confirmed Chief Officer, one Deputy Chief Officer, a full time Chief Medical Officer, one epidemiologist and three policy advisors to help the Ministry of Health deliver results at pace.” Minister Turner concluded.
Since the resignation of Dr. Lockhart and the communication of his concerns, Premier Panton and Minister Turner have been in continuing discussions with the Deputy Governor, Hon. Franz Manderson, to address those concerns and achieve the Government’s objective of opening the LTMHF as soon as possible following completion.
Addressing the Opposition’s claims, Hon. Minister Turner explained:
“When I took office, the LTMHF was under basic construction and was nowhere near being close to completion as the Opposition suggest. In fact, the project had already suffered a number of delays, some of which were due to COVID-19. As has been borne out, the buildings were still far from completion. As such, the comments from the Opposition suggesting that it was nearly complete is blatantly untrue, and can only be described as an attempt to deliberately mislead the public.”
The Minister said that: “Management of mental health issues has a profound impact on our entire community, and the enduring consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have made this need even more acute. Along with our community, I not only recognize the importance of the Long-Term Mental Health LTMHF, but acknowledge that it is a project that has been long overdue. In spite of significant challenges, my commitment to this project is steadfast and I will continue to work with my Ministry team to address the gaps and chasms which I inherited while advocating for the strengthening of the Ministerial team and building capacity.”
She went on to further state, “While as Minister I do not and cannot have any direct responsibility nor involvement in matters relating to staffing or recruitment, I have actively encouraged and wholeheartedly supported recent efforts to rebuild the Ministry team.”
“We must ensure the Ministry of Health is staffed and operated with adequate capacity and capable, qualified professionals who are able and willing to serve the needs of the community, and in tandem, the team at the Ministry of Health create and enshrine a culture which focuses on a more proactive approach to health and wellness,” she concluded.