At this old Kerala mental hospital, patients live like prisoners, in filth

As on Tuesday, there were at least 10 patients who have been confined to such congested cells with tin roof and doors closed with  iron bars.

Published: 13th April 2022 06:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th April 2022 08:37 AM   |  A+A-

Wards that resemble prison cells are where patients are housed in Government Mental Health Centre at Oolampara in Thiruvananthapuram

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A 6FT X 8FT cell that is worse than those found in the state’s central prisons is where a patient who shows tendency to become violent is housed at the Government Mental Health Centre at Peroorkada here, one of the reputed and oldest hospitals for psychiatry in the country. As on Tuesday, there were at least 10 patients who have been confined to such congested cells with tin roof and doors closed with  iron bars.

There were windows in some cells, but all of them have been sealed with iron grilles with mesh, limiting air circulation and sunlight. Darkness and foul smell suffocate inmates who are already down with mental aberrations. A visit to the hospital, established by rulers of erstwhile Travancore in 1870, will prove that all the claims made by the state about its health care system are not true.

The condition of wards — though not as worse as isolation cells — is also not anywhere near the standards specified by the National Mental Healthcare Act 2017. Wards are tin-roofed while windows are closed permanently with iron rods. Occupancy is twice or thrice the permitted number. On Tuesday, there were 702 patients in 530 beds. More than 200 patients are forced to sleep on the floor as not enough beds are there. Adding to their woes, there is dearth of staff too.

Scorching summer has made things worse for the patients as increased temperature in the rooms affects their recovery.  It is learnt that incidents of physical violence and missing cases are increasing at the centre due to the poor conditions.

“Tin roof increases temperature in rooms and they cause decreased sleep, dehydration, urinary infection, increased drug adverse effects and poor drug compliance. Recovery is often made difficult and delayed,” said a senior psychiatrist who works in government service. 

A patient in a ward that resembles a prison cell at the Government
Mental Health Centre.

Mental hospital authorities look forward to Rs 100-crore master plan

Asked about the serious violations of the MHC Act, Superintendent Dr Anilkumar said all complaints are being addressed in the master plan which is expected to transform the hospital into one of international standards. “The original deadline had to be changed because of the pandemic and we hope to execute the Rs 100-crore master plan in time,” said Anilkumar.

On replacing tiled roofs with tin sheets, he said, the PWD was carrying out repair work as tiles are broken frequently following falling of tree branches. “There were a couple of absconding incidents too. Hence we decided to put sheets,” said Anilkumar. A source in the hospital, however, said the delay in implementing the master plan was because of the tussle between government and Kitco over consultancy fee.

“It has been three years since Kitco was roped in to prepare a detailed project report on the new master plan for improving overall health care infrastructure at the centre, which is situated on a sprawling 36-acre campus. The project is stuck in red tape and Kitco has demanded 2% of the total project cost,” said the source. Reena Abraham, who practises at Kerala High Court, said every person with mental illness has a right to live in dignity.

“It’s a clear violation of human rights, fundamental rights envisaged by the constitution and violation of Section 20, 21 of the MHC Act. The centre in Kozhikode had similar issues and effective interventions were made by the legal counsel with the help of NGOs there. Now the condition there has improved considerably,” said Reena.

When treatment becomes punishment

Gross violations of National Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 on many counts are visible at Mental Health Centre, Oolampara, Thiruvananthapuram.Here are a few of them.

WHAT ACT & RULE SAY

Right to live in a safe & hygienic environment

Right to have adequate sanitary conditions

Right to privacy

Adequate infrastructure

What we see at Mental Health Centre

Overcrowded cells, posing health threat to patients

Isolation rooms and cells in deplorable condition

Common and unhygienic toilets, not in adequate number

Patients forced to bathe in the open due to lack of adequate infrastructure. Mostly female staff posted in
male wards

Patients are kept in sheet-roofed lockups, windows closed with iron grills. More than 200 patients are admitted without bed and are forced to sleep on the floor.



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