PHILIPSBURG – St. Maarten’s mental health patients have a new legal advocate: Victims of Mental Health Foundation. Anyone aggrieved by Mental Health Foundation (MHF) treatment, actions, and/or decisions at Cay Hill, especially the relatives of the six patients who died unnaturally in 2020 and 2021, may contact the new foundation for legal assistance and advice. .
The foundation incorporated on February 7, 2022 is an initiative of local criminal lawyer Geert Hatzmann who is supported in this and legally assisted by two board members in the Netherlands. Hatzmann is the family attorney for Caulette Julien, a 42-year-old mental health patient who was found dead in the clinic’s solitary confinement cell on August 25, 2020. Her death was classified as unnatural by the former police doctor, Dr. Michael Mercuur. . The cause of death is unknown at this time.
Julien suffered from bipolar disorder. She was alternately depressed and manic, but posed no danger to herself or others, witnesses said. Nevertheless, she was locked up and it turned out that she had already spent three weeks in a bare cell in the clinic. For part of that time, her attending psychiatrist, Dr. Kitty Pelswijk, was under COVID-19 quarantine at her home. She had not transferred her patient’s care to another physician. When Dr Pelswijk was informed of Julien’s death, she broke off her home quarantine and went to the Cay Hill clinic.
Earlier that year, Dr Pelswijk was responsible for the solitary confinement of a Surinamese man. The young woman, who had no residence papers for Saint-Martin and no health insurance, was kept in solitary confinement by the psychiatrist for three months, starting the first week of 2020.
“From a legal point of view, this was an unlawful deprivation of liberty,” Hatzmann said. “There is no legal basis for keeping a patient locked up for so long. Admission to the clinic and treatment must respect the principles of efficiency, subsidiarity and proportionality. By law, long-term admission requires permission from a judge. Treatment should be supervised. It turned out that Dr. Pelswijk systematically ignored the advice of his fellow psychiatrists and imposed his will.
On the initiative of Pelswijk, herself Surinamese, a medical flight to the Surinamese capital Paramaribo was organized for the woman in April 2020. The cost was borne by the taxpayers of Saint-Martin.
The four patients who died unnaturally in 2021 – two of whom took their own lives – were all being treated by Dr Pelswijk. According to testimonies, the psychiatrist occasionally prescribed medication without having seen her patient in person, without prior examination. She also reportedly suddenly changed the medications some patients relied on, leading to withdrawal symptoms or forcing patients to deal with new side effects.
Dr. Pelswijk has limited experience as a psychiatrist. She graduated in October 2017 in Suriname and her experience as a practicing psychiatrist is largely limited to her position at the MHF in Saint-Martin.
MHF’s medical management was strengthened a year ago by former Pelswijk internship supervisor in the Netherlands, Erik Hoencamp, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Leiden, former employee of the Parnassia Bavo group which offers mental health care in The Hague.
Hoencamp signed a six-month contract with MHF in exchange for an exorbitant fee, a villa with swimming pool, car, telephone and extras. His wife also got a job at MHF as a skills trainer for daycare clients and for MHF staff.
As the medical director of the clinic, Hoencamp and Pelswijk were responsible for prescribing medication to patients and administering sedation to those in crisis.
Two of their patients died unnaturally in July 2021.
On July 22, 2021, Lance Thomas (48) was found dead in the police holding cell in Philipsburg which is used by MHF to hold patients. Why Thomas was detained is unclear; he was not a suspect of a crime and there was no declaration of insanity, a so-called KZ-verklaring, the document needed to place a patient in solitary confinement. The criminal investigation opened in August 2021 has not yet resulted in a final report.
A few days after Thomas’s discovery, a mother found her son dead in her home. The young man had received an injection and pills prescribed by MHF. According to his mother, he had not slept for a few days. After an MHF nurse came to administer the medicine, her son fell asleep. The mother left home for a while. On her return, she makes the macabre discovery. “He never woke up,” she said.
The cause of death has not been established. Toxicological research cannot take place in Saint-Martin, blood samples must be sent to the national laboratory in Curaçao. The single mother cannot afford the cost of this research.
The Victims of Mental Health Foundation is calling on family members and patients to contact Hatzmann Law Firms in Philipsburg. “Depending on how many victims come forward, I’m considering filing a class action lawsuit,” Hatzmann explained. “This is an unprecedented decision in St. Maarten, in which the foundation brings a collective claim for damages to the court on behalf of the group of patients and family members.” The claim can reach millions of dollars.
According to the statutes, the Mental Health Victims Foundation will represent bereaved persons, legal representatives and trustees of deceased patients. The aim of the non-profit charity is to assist and offer “advice, consultation and the provision of (legal) assistance to Mental Health Foundation patients and their dependents. charge and loved ones”. Adding that “the Foundation will pursue its objectives by all other legally authorized means”.
The board consists of lawyer Geert Hatzmann as chairman, legal advisor Peter Bruns as treasurer and Bouwe de Jong as secretary. The board is preparing a class action lawsuit, representing a group of patients and loved ones, against Country St. Maarten, including the Department of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, alleging unlawful deprivation of liberty of patients and unjust denial appropriate mental health care. to certain groups of patients, including children.
MHF has received the government mandate for the mental health care of all patients in St. Maarten and, according to the foundation, has no right to exclude certain groups of patients or to make patients wait for months for get an appointment with a psychiatrist while their situation requires crisis intervention.