Since the tragic death of 60-year-old, Nestor Vasquez, a mentally ill man and brother of Channel 7’s own Jules Vasquez, mental health has come to the forefront of many discussions. The topic is no longer being treated as something taboo in Belizean society and authorities are now forced to take more precautions when dealing with such persons. While the death of their family member was tragic and unnecessary, it did spark an urgency for the family to see how they could help. The Vasquez family, along with their lawyer, met with the secretary of the Mental Health Association, Kathy Esquivel earlier this morning. According to the family, they discussed priority areas on mental health treatment in Belize, and their aim is to ensure that what happened to their loved one is not repeated. The Vasquez family also held a press conference to brief the media on the meeting.
Jules Vasquez – Brother of Nestor Vasquez: “There are things that we want to push for as a family, that we want to use our influence to push forward as a family, that regards to the treatment of mentally ill persons. First of all there is going to be a new intake at the Police Training Academy in a short time. I don’t know exactly when they will go in but we will request and I will initiate conversations with the Commissioner that mental health sensitivity training be an integral part of this training for this intake and every intake going forward. We will be liaising with the Police Department and the Ministry of Health to push for this as urgently as possible because I know the training is imminent. Second, we want to push for the creation of an acute mental health unit at the KHMH. This could be a small unit with only eight to ten beds but it is urgently needed. We see it all the time in our society, we always report on cases with mentally ill persons that are acting out in aggressive ways or may end up in hostile situations because there is no available means of treatment for persons in an acute state. The third thing that we would like to lobby for and that we are making public today is that there be the creation of what is called a forensic unit, perhaps this could go hand in hand with the Palm Center and a forensic unit is for persons who are a danger to themselves and to others, to be placed there on a medium-term basis. We don’t want to create a facility where the mentally ill are warehoused and just left there like what we grew up with, the concept of Rockview or Seaview. The fourth thing that we want to push for is the updating of the laws as it relates to mental health. The laws are completely outdated and anachronistic. The terms in there are terms that cannot be used anymore because they are so incorrect from a political perspective.”
When it comes to these areas that Vaquez laid out, there is always the question of funding. Jules and his sister, Marydelene Vasquez, agreed that while government funding is not always available, there are resources available in order to start with an acute facility; a place where mental patients can go when they are having acute episodes.
Mary Vasquez – Sister of Nestor Vasquez: “There will always be competition for Government resources but advocacy on the part of special interest groups, advocacy by the Social Sector we believe is needed to encourage that political will to make that commitment because it is something that in the grander scheme of things is not that difficult or expensive compared to other aspects of Government operation so it is a matter of advocating and pushing for that political will to make a commitment.”
Jules Vasquez – Brother of Nestor Vasquez: “Certainly the acute unit and I cannot speak, I am not the Administrator of KHMH, I would never presume to know her work but I am saying that we have a model that works at Western Regional so to transpose that would just require again will but I think that certainly for a forensic unit funding would have to be sought but for that acute unit they got funding from the Japanese. The acute unit at Western Regional, funding is available because this is a criminally overlooked aspect of healthcare.”
The Vasquez family also made mention to a memorandum that the Belize Police Department had issued last month in which officers were being asked to have a more hands off approach when dealing with mental health patients. The memorandum stated that the practice of detaining mentally ill persons in order for them to have access to medical treatment will no longer be done and that when dealing with mental health patients, quote, “the role of the police is to offer support to personnel of the health services and as such, the police’s response will be in aid of health professionals.” End quote. Jules Vasquez referred to this memorandum as quote, “a bad call by the Commissioner.”
Jules Vasquez – Brother of Nestor Vasquez: “In my opinion it was a bad call from the Commissioner. I understand he is trying to minimize his exposure to liability but at the same time there has to be some response when people are breaking the law. When people are breaking the law the police have to act and that is why we have to have this mental health sensitivity training and ultimately we have to have the development of a protocol for interaction with the mentally ill, for persons who are acting out. I think the memorandum, doing it unilaterally without the consultation of the Ministry of Health was a bad idea, a band-aid idea and I think also that upon review the Commissioners proposal to have a cushioned cell, a padded room at the Queen Street detention is also a band-aid knee jerk reaction that doesn’t really address the problem in a long term way to manage these situations.”