Published On: Sun, Dec 10th, 2023

Government faces compensation claim for patient’s solitary confinement death, no response given

PHILIPSBURG — The Government of St. Maarten is under legal scrutiny as it has been mandated to compensate the family of Caulette Julien, who tragically died in August 2020 while in solitary confinement at the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). Attorney Geert Hatzmann, representing Julien’s mother and sister, has submitted a compensation claim of US$55,381.88 on behalf of the surviving relatives.

The claim, dispatched to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, Minister of Justice Anna Richardson, and Minister of Public Health, Social Affairs, and Labor, VSA Omar Ottley, explicitly requested payment by November 27, 2023. Unfortunately, none of the ministers have acknowledged or responded to the letter of demand, and as of now, the compensation payment remains outstanding.

In a recent ruling, the Medical Disciplinary Court held psychiatrist Dr. Kitty Pelswijk accountable for her actions concerning mental health patient Caulette Julien. The court concluded that Dr. Pelswijk failed to adequately monitor the patient’s health and safety, leading to serious disciplinary reproaches.

The case, brought by the family of the deceased patient, outlined multiple concerns related to her confinement and subsequent death. Among the key complaints were excessively long solitary confinement, failure to document daily coercive measures, neglecting to record the patient’s condition, malfunctioning surveillance systems, and the failure to report the death to the Public Health Inspectorate.

During the October 3, 2023, hearing, the Medical Disciplinary Court, comprised of a judge and two medical specialists, found the complaint well-founded on all counts. The court emphasized that the psychiatrist’s actions, especially the lack of a treatment plan and minimal note-taking, were inexcusable.

Caulette Julien, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was found dead in solitary confinement at the Mental Health Foundation in Cay Hill on August 25, 2020, at the age of 43. The family’s lawyer, Geert Hatzmann, argued that the victim’s death could have been prevented if proper measures had been taken.

The court further revealed a potential cause of death as carbamazepine poisoning, highlighting that crucial laboratory tests were delayed. Dr. Pelswijk, who did not order an investigation into the cause of death, completed a declaration of natural death, hindering any post-mortem inquiry.

Despite the serious disciplinary reproaches, the court opted for a reprimand without further consequences. This decision allows Dr. Pelswijk to continue practicing psychiatry.

Attorney Hatzmann denounced the lack of government oversight of MHF and highlighted violations of national and international standards. The claim seeks compensation for funeral costs, emotional damages to the mother and sister, and damages for the victim.

In the absence of the government’s compliance with the compensation demand, statutory interest and collection costs will be added. The refusal to comply will prompt further legal action, as announced in the demand letter to the three ministers.