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Doors closed at Detox Unit - Former MAJ head warns shutdown detrimental. UHWI's medical chief of staff says unit relocated

Published:Monday | November 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
De La Haye

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's mental health care-response capability has suffered a major setback with what one senior member of the medical fraternity claims is the closure of the detoxification unit at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).

The closure means persons suffering from drug/alcohol addiction and in need of inpatient care have no public facility to which they can turn.

"There is one inpatient treatment facility in the public service. That's the Addiction Services Unit, and that has been closed for the last four weeks," consultant psychiatrist Dr Winston De La Haye told The Gleaner yesterday.

Describing the issue as major, De La Haye, a former president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, argued that there were potentially wide-scale implications.

"If you have a cocaine addiction and you've struggled for 15 years with it and are now ready for treatment, there is nowhere for you to go now for the last four weeks," he said.

"If you are an alcoholic, drinking a quart of rum a day for the past 20 years, and you finally reach the point where you want help and you come in tonight, there is no inpatient addiction treatment services unit ... . There is nowhere for you to go right now, and I can't even tell you, 'Come next week' because I don't know that it will be available."

incorrect information

But reacting to De La Haye's concerns, Dr Trevor McCartney, medical chief of staff at the University Hospital of the West Indies, sought to explain that the eight-bed unit at the facility was underutilised and that the unit had not been closed but rather, was relocated to a more convenient location.

"That is incorrect information," McCartney insisted. "The detox unit was being severely underutilised, with just two or three patients, and we had a situation where we required additional inpatient beds to try and address the increased complications of the non-communicable diseases, particularly the chikungunya crisis. So we relocated Detox to another area that was more conducive for the treatment of toxicity than where they were previously."

Shooting back, De La Haye told The Gleaner that McCartney's explanation was "not true".

He noted that because admission is dictated largely by patients being motivated to come, the numbers do fluctuate, with admissions traditionally low during periods such as the Christmas season when there are more expressions of public charity.

De La Haye stressed that it was the detoxification unit that had been affected and that other mental-health issues such as those treated at Ward 21 were not affected by the closure.