Helpless Homeless, Clueless Care

Up until the time the two mental health nurses that worked at Morris F. de Castro Clinic retired, St. John’s mentally ill received care right where they were. Now the director of mental health services says the patients should make their way two miles out of town… or take a ferry, a half hour bus ride and a fifteen minute walk to Bethlehem House on St. Thomas.

CRUZ BAY — St. John residents and community volunteers say the island’s mental health care system is off the rails. But some Health officials dispute that, saying the system is in place and working.

Among those who don’t agree, Deputy Police Chief Arlene Charlwell. After a March 29 town hall meeting Charwell organized a meeting with civil leaders to discuss the problem.

“The Deputy Chief, she’s the one who spearheaded this meeting, especially with all the complaints that was going on, on St. John,” said Sherry Ann Francis, an aide to St. John Administrator Camille Paris Jr.

Charlwell invited representatives from the Department of Health, Human Services, Sports, Parks and Recreation, the National Park Service, Office of Veteran’s Affairs, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the St. John Community Foundation and the Family Resource Center on April 4.

The mentally ill are easy to spot in town. On a weekday morning, a shirtless man stands in the street, gesturing with a long stick near a group of students by a bakery table. In the Enighed parking lot, a few minutes later, a woman is standing between parked cars, having an argument with no one.

Another woman, wearing a shirt with sleeves too long and a backwards baseball cap moved from person to person, asking for a dollar. All this while a well known man in bare feet and matted hair seems to be having a quiet day.

On any given day the shoeless man can be seen marching around Cruz Bay Quarter for hours, muttering and cursing in a raspy voice.

Deputy Health Commissioner Nicole Simms agreed to look into the availability of mental health personnel for the island. In the past, two mental health nurses were on staff at the Morris F. DeCastro Clinic in Cruz Bay.

“I think they had a doctor coming here, twice a month. She was going to look into that and she was going to bring some more information on what aspects we had to help the mentally ill,” Francis said.

But weeks later DOH Mental Health Director Berlinda Berube painted a far different picture. Berbue said there was a system in place, providing care.

“Right now on the island of St. John we are providing services two days a week. I know there has been concerns about medication management,” she said.

Those patients who have insurance can get help in this area by visiting the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic, she said. Those without can get help from the clinic at Bethlehem House. Catholic Charities has also agreed to provide mental health support services when they visit the island once a month.

An investigation by found out, however, there is no two tier safety net for the handful of patients fitting this category.

The options are bleak. The prospect of St. John patients trekking by ferry and bus for care to St. Thomas if they lapse into a crisis don’t exist.

And the mental health director didn’t know that Bethlehem House is on St. Thomas, not St. John.

Located north Lionel Roberts Stadium, Bethlehem House is about thirty minutes away from the Red Hook Ferry Terminal by bus, followed by a twenty minute walk.

“Bethlehem House is not on St. John?” she said. “I wouldn’t know, I don’t live on St. John.”

The mental health director said the Department of Health is doing what they can to provide care and treatment and is working to secure psychiatric services.

VI Police Department spokesman Glen Dratte, meanwhile, says complaints about disruptive mental patients keep coming in to Zone D command in Cruz Bay.

“They’re getting a lot of calls and the issue needs to be addressed immediately,” Dratte said.