CHENNAI: A message purportedly written by a Tamil film director on the ill-treatment of patients at the Institute of Mental Health, Kilpauk, which made the rounds on instant messaging services like WhatsApp, brought the State Health Department to the institute on Thursday.
The director Rudhran, who had shot his film Vetri Selvan on the institute premises three years ago, denied penning the message, but it prompted Health Minister Dr C Vijaya Baskar and secretary J Radhakrishnan to visit the institute to ensure that the allegations were not true.
The 1,800-bed institute that works under the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital came under a cloud after the message about staff ill-treating patients went viral. The message said the inmates were beaten up by the staff, and some were chained in small rooms.
When contacted, the director said while it is true that he gave an interview when he broached the issue, the message now making the rounds is fabricated. “I did not say people were chained and confined to rooms,” he said.
Senior officials said there used to be a provision where individuals and organisations could visit the institute and offer food and other material to the inmates during special occasions.
“But there were instances where more than one group came on a particular day and quarrelled over who should distribute first. It turned out to be a nuisance, prompting us to stop it. But we might have been hasty in the decision. We will now allow people after they obtain proper approval from the management,” said an official. Such community interactions, he admitted, could also bring transparency to the institution.
According to a senior official, they were trying to trace the addresses of those who had been cured but not contacted by family members, with the help of police. But this is far from easy. There are 1,100 patients now, mostly from across the State and a few from other parts of the country.
“There are inmates from the North, who do not speak at all because of their condition. When they give us some information about their address, location etc, we search the name on Google. If it turns out to be true, we will inform the police,” said an official.
“If we manage to trace the family, we can encourage them to take their loved ones back. Sadly, most of them do not want these people back. They, too, should be counselled,” he added.
A source admitted that despite all the good work, the institute was being maligned because of a small section of staff who ill-treat the patients.
“The management should keep an eye on them and punish such persons,” the source added.