It is one medical centre with three different names. Most people call it for short Asylum, the place where insane people are kept for treatment and protection.
Others refer to it as mental hospital because it cares for people suffering from mental ailments officially, it is known as Accra Psychiatric Hospital, derived from “psychiatry,” the medical term for the branch of medicine that deals with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders.
Located adjacent to the Roman Catholic Cathedral along the road to the Ridge Hospital, the Accra Psychiatric Hospital was build in the colonial days as a centre for minimal mental cases that occurred in the municipality. This is shown by its limited space, mediocre structures, rough ground and drab environment.
It was mainly a temporary measure awaiting the construction of a better facility elsewhere later.
Since its establishment over 60 years ago, it is believed that no government official – Minister of Health, Accra Regional Minister or Mayor of Accra let alone a President – has visited the Accra Mental Hospital to see the situation on the ground.
The reason is obvious. There is the eminent danger of a mentally-deranged patient breaking loose to cause havoc. And who would be blamed for such incident? Even relatives of mental patients on admission at the hospital are reluctant to go them; how much more officials who are over burned with urgent problems to solve.
However, the recent Easter celebration marked a historic precedent in the annals of the hospital. President Atta Mills paid a visit to the place – the first Head of State to do so to show love and care for the patients and express appreciation to the doctors and nurses for carrying out their onerous duties even at the risk of their lives.
Even Florence Nightingale, founder of the nursing profession, was not exposed to such risks when she attended to the casualties of the Crimea War. The case of mental nurses is fraught with real danger at every stage.
As it was reported, the President’s visit was unannounced, the intention, allegedly being to spring a surprise on the inmates to forestall any mishap that might occur. Yet the visit brought joy to them, signifying to them that, after all the stigma put on them, they ar also important, being honoured with a presidential visit on a festive occasion like Easter.
Look at the press photographs and television screens on the event, the inmates were all eager to catch a glimpse of the President and wished they could seize the opportunity to meet and present their plight to him which was the rationale for his visit.
And he clearly stated it, saying that he was drawn to the hospital by the mounting problems facing it and therefore promised to give the necessary assistance to remedy the situation.
Indeed, President Atta Mills sounded like he was just ready to release the funds for medical supplies and improvement of the facilities. It is like handling the matter as an emergency case in the same way doctors deal with critical conditions with urgency.
Be that as it may, the problem at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital is fundamental and tremendous, looking at the state of congestion, deterioration and dilapidation of the place through years of stack neglect, laxity and apathy on the part of successive governments.
As already indicated, initially the hospital was built to accommodate the few number of mental cases caused by the pressures and frustrations of life in Accra, hence the erection of haphazard structures on a small plot of land.
Over the years, the hospital’s admissions have increased in multiple numbers to outstrip the existing facilities which have seen no renovation, refurbishment or extension. One wonders whether it is included in the budget allocation for hospital development projects. Thanks to the couple of corporate organisations and institutions which have adopted some of the wards to save the hospital from total collapse.
No doubt, President Atta Mills saw the appalling conditions on the spot during his surprise short visit. So he has a challenging task to deal with and not just the release of funds for medical supplies and renovation works.
Notably, the existing site is too small for expansion project at the hospital. Besides it is no longer suitable, having assumed a central position within the ever growing and expanding capital city of Accra. This location is not ideal for psychiatric patients, they need to be accommodated in a secluded and serene environment that would help to re-orientate and transform them.
In view of this situation, the task for the President is two-fold One, close down the Accra Psychiatric Hospital; send the patients, doctors and nurses to the Pantang Hospital after providing adequate accommodation for them. It means Pantang will be expanded and operate as a psychiatric medical centre.
Second, and a better alternative, is to build a new psychiatric hospital elsewhere in Accra and re-settle the patients there. This becomes an additional modern facility to support Pantang. And in furtherance to this support, steps should be taken to set up psychiatric units at the Korle-Bu and Ridge hospitals to take care of minor mental cases, while the serious ones are referred to Pantang or the new hospital.
What becomes the vacated space? It could be used as annexe for the Electoral Commission or WAEC or a training centre for the TUC. All these institutions are within the proximity of the area.
It is significant to note that President Atta Mills has set a record of being the first Head of State to visit the Accra Psychiatric Hospital; he has shown that he cares for their plight, and has promised to remedy it. Let him fulfil this promise to substantiate the record he has set for the hospital.
Very clearly, re-locating the Accra Psychiatric Hospital is urgent and it is a task for him to accomplish as a legacy of his administration.
Over to you, Mr President!