Delayed mental health facility moving forward

Dr. Marc Lockhart

The chairman of the Cayman Islands Mental Health Commission says while plans for a new inpatient mental health facility in East End have been delayed, they are still moving forward and he is hopeful the project could be completed within the next year.

“We are still on track,” said Dr. Marc Lockhart, a psychiatrist who also serves as the director of inpatient psychiatry and behavioural health for the Health Services Authority, of the 54-bed facility that was originally expected to open earlier this year.

Cayman’s building boom is partly to blame. Only one firm bid on the facility was made during the submission process last fall and government officials and the contractor were reported unable to reach agreement on the project details. That led the health ministry to reformulate the planned construction into five separate projects, which were put out to bid in the spring.

Even though the bidding was extended, Lockhart said, “What we understand is it’s been a fairly vibrant response.”

A request for comment from Ministry of Health Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn did not receive a response.

Details of the project’s progress were presented at a meeting on Wednesday that was attended by top members of the Ministry of Health, Lockhart said. He described the discussion at the meeting as “vibrant” but productive.

“Everyone is still on board,” he said. “The money is still there in the budget, not just for the project, but for operations as well.”

He said bids are expected to be awarded in the next two months, with groundbreaking in a matter of weeks after that. Construction is expected to take nine months.

The project planned on 15 acres in East End, will have nine cottages, each of which can house six patients, and a central building for administration, dining and activities. It will also feature an orchard and vegetable garden. It is estimated to cost between $16 million and $20 million.

Lockhart said the facility is badly needed. The current eight beds at Cayman Islands Hospital dedicated to mental health patients are frequently at capacity and beyond. Those needing long-term care are often sent off island. In the last month, he said, he’s had to send two patients to Jamaica in order to receive inpatient care and is working on arrangements to send another.

The need for that kind of service on Cayman is a frequent topic of conversation with patients and their families, he said.

“This comes up every day, and I’m not exaggerating that,” Lockhart said. “There’s not a day where someone or some family member [doesn’t ask], ‘Where are we on that project?’”

Even when it is opened, Lockhart said he expects the new facility to quickly be at full capacity.

“We were going to keep one of the cottages possibly for medical tourism,” he said. “We’re now realising we’re going to be using all of those beds. This is not the end all on solving mental health problems in the Cayman Islands.”

He foresees a need for at least two group homes that would serve as step-down care for mental health patients, helping to provide the support needed for re-entering society. He expects those homes will be funded through private initiatives and non-government organisations.

Although frustrated by the delays, Lockhart said he also does not want to rush the process.

“We want to make sure we do things right,” he said.