Ground broken at mental-health facility

Government officials mark the groundbreaking of the long-term residential mental health facility with a turn of the shovel. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

It is not easy getting to the site of the Cayman Islands’ long-term residential mental-health facility. Just beyond Health City, one has to turn off the main road and wind three miles down High Rock Road, a rough and bumpy journey into the heart of East End.

This artist’s rendering shows an aerial view of the long-term residential health care facility.

It seems appropriate, given how long it has taken for Cayman’s first permanent mental-health facility to reach its groundbreaking, which took place Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s been about five years of intense work,” said Dr. Marc Lockhart, head of Cayman’s Mental Health Commission.

“But this has been about 18 years of work on the ground in terms of what families and patients have been crying out for.”

The $15 million complex on 15 acres 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, and even farm animals.

The project was delayed at several stages and its slow pace often frustrated those working on it. Completion is expected in 2021.

Lockhart said the location is perfect as the trend in mental-health treatment is to provide patients with a quiet, pastoral setting. He likened it to putting critically ill patients in intensive care units.

“We’re moving back to nature, using ‘green therapy’,” he said. “Nature revives us. You’re not hearing engines running. You’re not hearing sirens and alarms going off.”

Addressing a crowd of about 70 people during the groundbreaking, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the new facility will help to erase a stain on Cayman’s healthcare system.

“We have known for years that the treatment was less than adequate,” McLaughlin said of mental-health care on the island. “It’s nothing short of a national disgrace.”

Currently, the Cayman Islands Hospital has a eight-bed short-term ward for mental-health patients. The unit is unable to meet the demand, said Lockhart. Patients needing long-term care are often sent off island, typically to Jamaica or the US, to receive care.

Some of those patients will be able to return to Cayman once the project is completed, he said.

“This facility is going to make our nation whole again,” Lockhart added.

Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour called the groundbreaking a “milestone for the Cayman Islands”, adding that he believes its presence will encourage more people who need treatment to seek it.

“We suspect there are more persons out there that will come out and be a part of this programme because we have a facility that will benefit them greatly,” he said.

Lockhart said it was an emotional day for him.

“This is sacred land,” he said. “This is our forefathers’ land. This land is going to create a lot of benefit and a lot of healing. We’re going to use it to set an example, not only for the region but for the world.”