Changing face of psychiatric health care: Over 2,200 recovered patients go back home
More than 2,220 patients who have fully recovered from mental health conditions have been reintegrated into the community.
They are part of the 2,850 patients who were still at the psychiatric hospitals in the country — the Ankaful, Pantang and the Accra Psychiatric hospitals — although they had recovered.
The reintegration is in line with a new psychiatric regime designed to help reunite patients with their families and loved ones under the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846).
The Accra Psychiatric Hospital reconnected about 1,650, the Pantang Hospital reintegrated 320 patients, with the Ankaful Hospital facilitated the reintegration of 250 patients.
The inception of the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) has reoriented the delivery of mental health practice into a more community service approach.
With this, patients are expected to be treated in a less restrictive or familiar environment rather than confining them in mental health facilities for a long period.
This is in line with many studies that showed that it was better to manage patients in the communities than keeping them in the facilities where they have been forgotten.
The Act created a community psychiatric unit to provide psychiatric services in the districts to help support the main psychiatric hospitals.
The community psychiatric units work in partnership with the Social Welfare Departments (SWDs) across districts in the country to reintegrate the cured patients into the society.
Mental healthcare evolution
In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra last Thursday, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Mental Health Authority (MHA), Professor Akwasi Osei, said psychiatric health care had evolved over the years into a community care approach.
“Mental health care has gone through various evolutions. Now the current evolution is the recognition that persons with mental health care can be treated in their communities and not necessarily at the institutions.
“Those days when people were kept so long at the psychiatric institutions are long gone; now the focus is on community care,” he said.
For this reason, Prof. Osei indicated that the government, through the various mental health institutions, had started cutting down on the number of patients that had fully recovered but were still at the facilities.
The MHA CEO said, for instance, that the Accra Psychiatric Hospital used to have over 2,000 patients in its wards, but it had been able to downsize to 350 patients.
“Pantang Hospital also used to have a huge number, but has reduced it to between 200 and 150 patients.
Ankaful Hospital previously had 350, but has reduced it to about 100 patients recently,” Prof. Osei said.
Inbuilt psychiatric units
With patients now treated at the communities, Prof. Osei said the government had deliberately established inbuilt psychiatric units at all the regional and district hospitals to provide mental healthcare services.
“We have community psychiatric nurses and personnel specially trained to liaise with social welfare offices in the community to provide these services diligently,” he said.
He added that beyond helping patients to reintegrate into the community, the move also sought to provide adequate services to reduce relapses of patients and ensure that they were well taken care of in the communities.
That, Prof. Osei explained, also helped reduce stigmatisation and cost of accessing health care to the families, hospitals and the country in general.
The Medical Director of Pantang Hospital, Dr Frank Baning, in another interview, said the hospital had introduced a new regime where families and loved ones seeking admission for their patients at the facility needed to go through the community psychiatric and social welfare units before their request could be granted.
That, he explained, was part of measures to prevent people from abandoning their patients at the hospital without any trace.
“So, when families go through the psychiatric units across the districts in the country, the units establish where to find the family or a contact person to ensure that recovered patients could go back home. And after treatment, when we realise the person is getting better, the social welfare unit at the hospital starts tracking the community psychiatric unit within the communities the patient originally resides and the process of reintegration continues from there,” Dr Baning explained.
He said for that reason, the hospital was pushing for patients to be referred to their communities after they had spent some time at the facility and had been cleared medically, to continue treatment in a less restricted environment.
“So, we make efforts that when we admit you, you are not going to be here for too long. With this, we take our strength from the Mental Health Act again,” Dr Baning added.
The Daily Graphic interacted with some of the recovered patients who had successfully reconnected with families and they confirmed they were once admitted to the Pantang Hospital.
Cindy Boadu, a trader at Madina Market, said she was admitted to the Pantang Hospital between December 18, 2019, and July 12, 2020.
Her medical care and startup capital to start her business after fully recovering was sponsored by the Legon Interdenominational Church (LIC).
Ms Boadu is currently into the sale of assorted drinks at the market and resides at Teiman near Abokobi in the Greater Accra Region.
She expressed appreciation to the hospital and the church for helping her to regain her sanity.
“I take my medications regularly and so I am always okay,” she said when the Daily Graphic joined the personnel of the hospital’s psychiatric and social welfare units on a routine check-up of some of the recovered patients.
Another recovered patient, Samuel Kofi Agyemang, popularly called Wofa, who hails from Bekwai in the Ashanti region, was yet to reconnect with his family.
This is because the family members who could remember Mr Agyemang at Bekwai had all passed away, the hospital has, thus, employed him at its cleaning unit to help him.
Mr Agyemang said he ended up at the hospital as a patient more than 30 years ago after a police swoop in Accra.
“I was in Accra to find work and I was picked and brought here by the police as a patient,” he said.