Our most vulnerable, second installment

Respaldo – Fundacion Salud Mental Aruba

We all remember when PAAZ, the Psychiatric Department of the general hospital was part of HOH, then in 2017, Respaldo, a mental health foundation took its place, attempting to run outpatient care clinics for adults, children and youth, as well as the social psychiatric service.

Respaldo was to coordinate treatment and diagnosis of clients, in outpatient clinics, offer consulting, perform medical treatments, prescribe medications and run a cooperative multidisciplinary team, at three island locations, providing mental health care solutions for  115.000 people. That’s huge.

Mid-pandemic, the Head of RESPALDO, psychiatrist Hendrikus van Gaalen, hit the alarm button. He said many Covid survivors suffer neurological or mental disorders, RESPALDO saw an increase of clients from 1,400 a year, to 3,000, and last year they had 8,000 on the waiting list.

PAAZ, the modest department at the hospital, ballooned into RESPALDO, too fast, too complex, and it encountered difficulties at managing Psychiatric Cure AND Psychiatric Care effectively.

The CURE portion we get, people go for help to overcome a rough patch, they talk to a professional, they get better, they go on with their lives. The goal is to help people recover.

We also get the CARE portion. Respaldo is entrusted with the most vulnerable, people who must live in an institution, mostly heavily medicated, because their family members are incapable to taking care of them, and they find it impossible to live in society.

Last week we heard AZV was cutting Respaldo’s budget and Respaldo suggested to give up long-term CARE, and send its most-dependent patients, also most expensive, home. But one phone call from MinPres removed that threat, she will find the money, she promised.

She knows we cannot burden families with such an immense challenge. The state has to help.

Meanwhile between the threat and its mitigation, I heard some nerve-rattling commentary. A while ago we lost a young policeman, responding to a call, to handle a psychotic outbreak of a notorious mental patient. When Tino Ruiz died, we thought some paradigms will shift, but nothing happened. They held a memorial walk in his honor, mid-July.

Aruba needs both Care & Cure, and cannot give up  one in favor of the other.

Perhaps a private institution can fulfil the function and also serve Curacao and Bonaire in the process.

We should not accept the claim that there is no money, it is a question of decision-making, and where you spent it.

The fire-brigade just got new uniforms, gloves, helmets, and a couple of vehicles including new fire engines, thanks to the fantastic vision of the minister in charge, who allocated Awg 2.2 million.

God bless the fire-brigade, they deserve all that new material. However, by the list of their new purchases, I understand how neglected and poorly equipped they were. They also posted some threadbare, pathetic pictures of their current equipment and uniforms, held together by masking tape and spit.

NO MONEY is never the argument. GOA spends 4.5 million each day. It’s a question of spending it on the right stuff. It’s a question of priorities.


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July 27, 2022
Rona Coster