Mental health facility remains in limbo

This architect's rendering of the planned long-term mental health facility shows the exterior forecourt of the site. - Image: Montgomery Sisam Architects

Delays in the construction of a new mental health facility for the Cayman Islands continue and Ministry of Health officials have declined to say when the project might actually get off the ground.

The $1 million project, planned on 15 acres in East End, is supposed to have nine cottages, each of which can house six patients, and a central building for administration, dining and activities. An orchard and vegetable garden were also part of the original plan.

When the project was approved in March 2018, officials said groundbreaking on the project would take place in the summer. That did not happen.

In October, officials said they hoped for a construction start shortly after the first of the year. But as yet, there has been no activity.

Repeated requests for updates on the situation from the ministry have failed to produce a response.

Dr. Marc Lockhart, chairman of the Mental Health Commission, is close to the project. He said the delays are a result of a labor shortage and increased construction costs.

“Because of increased construction on the island, [contracting] firms are very busy,” Dr. Lockhart said. “So the fees and costs have increased, not to mention the costs of the products.”

He said he was told a firm had been chosen through the bidding process, but because of increased costs, negotiations on the initial contract were necessary.

“It seems the discussions were not fruitful,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for me,” Dr. Lockhart added. “But much more frustrating for the patients. People are asking about this on a daily basis: ‘Where are they with this facility? We heard about it a year ago.’”

Mental health capacity has reached a critical point for Cayman patients, he said. The mental health ward at the Cayman Islands Hospital, the only such unit on the island, has just eight beds.

“Our beds are full this week,” Dr. Lockhart said. “We have 10 patients.”

Overflow patients have to be housed in other areas of the hospital, he said, or sent off island. So far this year, he said, 13 patients have been sent to Jamaica.

“That doesn’t include the ones we send to the States, who have private insurance,” he said.

Despite the lack of actual construction, he said, he believes ministry officials are committed to the new facility.

“The powers that be are very concerned with getting this back on track as fast as possible,” he said.

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