Wolffe saddened by mental health shortcomings

Bermuda’s top magistrate called for better mental health treatment options for people with intellectual disabilities after he was forced to hold a mentally challenged man in Westgate because he was kicked out of a group home.

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe added that the island was in “a very sad state” if the only mental health facility in Bermuda could not handle outbursts from people such as 27-year-old Khayriek Woolridge.

He said: “It is astonishing that in Bermuda, which has billions of dollars floating through it, one cannot find adequate funding to treat our most vulnerable citizens.

“This is a sad, sad indictment on Bermuda.”

Mr Wolffe added: “I once again, for the umpteenth time, urge those who make decisions and allocate funding to place, as their priority, persons who are in dire need of help.”

He spoke during a probation breach hearing for Mr Woolridge yesterday in Magistrates’ Court.

The court heard that Mr Woolridge, from Warwick, was sentenced to time served and two years of probation on July 17 after he admitted two counts of committing an indecent act in front of a girl aged under 14.

Part of his probation required him to stay at a group home at Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute for psychiatric treatment.

But Mr Woolridge was forced to leave the home on Friday when he was accused of common assault and destruction of property.

Crown prosecutor Cindy Clarke said that MWI would not allow Mr Woolridge on premises until an investigation was completed. She said this put him in breach of his probation.

She added that he did not have any family that could house him and he would be left homeless if he was not remanded.

Ms Clarke also said that Mr Woolridge was in an agitated state when the incident was alleged to have happened.

But Mr Wolffe said that he witnessed incidents similar to the one alleged to have happened when he worked at a mental health facility in Canada — all of which the staff were trained to handle.

He explained: “In the facility they had to train staff to deal with this because the population we cared for — paranoid schizophrenics and the sort — was expected to have these sorts of outbursts.

“I just don’t understand why in this country with all this money flowing that we don’t have people who can address the needs of a mid to low-level problem that Mr Woolridge has.”

He added: “The amount of times that my life was threatened in this facility that I worked in was so frequent that it actually became laughable after a while.”

Elizabeth Christopher, for the defence, called for the Ministry of Health to find a place for Mr Woolridge by 4pm yesterday.

She added that the mental health treatment sector of Bermuda needed to be better equipped to deal with people like Mr Woolridge for more than the two weeks he was held in the group home.

Ms Christopher said: “If the family has put in 20 years of care, we can at least offer more than two weeks.”

The Ministry of Health and the Bermuda Hospitals Board did not respond to the request by press time.

Kelly Madeiros, co-ordinator of the Bermuda Mental Health Treatment Court, said that Mr Woolridge did not fit the criteria for many mental health programmes on the island because he suffered from an intellectual disability instead of a mental health issue.

She added that mental health facilities on the island were not prepared to care for a high-functioning intellectually disabled person such as Mr Woolridge and that the facility he was in was “the best that they could do with what we have”.

She explained: “Historically, the intellectual disability at MWI deals with much lower-functioning clients than Mr Woolridge.

“There’s a big gap in Bermuda where we have lots of people who are higher functioning, such as Mr Woolridge, that we don’t have appropriate homes for.”

Mr Wolffe remanded Mr Woolridge in custody and adjourned the case until this morning to determine whether or not MWI will take Mr Woolridge back into the group home.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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