Published On: Wed, Oct 21st, 2020

A multi-million dollar sales pitch

By Hilbert Haar

Finding the best possible solution in any situation requires first and foremost that you understand and acknowledge the problem. That’s why recovering alcoholics always begin their stories at AA-meetings by stating their name, followed by; “I am an alcoholic.”

Recent media reports have established that, without a shadow of a doubt, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has some serious issues. So the initiative of chairlady Grisha Heyliger-Marten to call a meeting of the permanent parliamentary committee for Public Health, Social Affairs and Labor on a subject that concerned the MHF seemingly could not have come at a better time.

Unfortunately, the idea was not to define the apparent struggles of the MHF or to establish the exact nature of its problems. The parliament’s web site announced the meeting with this agenda point; “Presentation by Ethegrity Healthcare Consulting on a proposal for consultative services to the Mental Health Foundation.”

Related article: Therapy via the internet proposed as a solution for mental health care on St. Maarten

As I listened to a presentation by Ethegrity director Fredericka Ford I slowly but surely realized that the committee was not going to address the issues at the MHF at all. This was a sales pitch.

How much of a sales pitch it really was only became clear when, at the end of the meeting, MP Claudius Buncamper threw in one last question: “Is it correct that Ethegrity offered its services to the MHF for $2.4 million?”

Ford did not blink an eye:”Yes we did, but this was spread over a couple of years.”

I have nothing against Ethegrity or against the affable Ms. Ford; I got the impression that Ford knows what she is talking about and that her company fields a lot of useful expertise. The question that kept rolling through my head was: why does a parliamentary committee have to hear all this? Is this committee going to take a decision about that multi-million dollar contract? Or is that decision, maybe, the prerogative of 1. The Mental Health Foundation or 2. The Minister of Public Health?

That Ford was in the (zoom) meeting to sell her company became clear when she answered as follows to a question by MP Angelique Roumou whether the MHF-staff is qualified to deal with the patients in its care.  “They all come from a place of compassion. I cannot say that the staff was ill-prepared or ill-equipped. But there were some glaring concerns about service.”

How an American company like Ethegrity – established in 2012 – came across St. Maarten and the potential needs of the Mental Health Foundation did not become entirely clear, but Ford did say that her first contact had been with former MP Luc Mercelina. In 2019 she visited the MHF for what she labeled as a “precursory assessment.”

She did not disclose what she learned during that process; she only said: “There were concerns about the delivery of care.”

Committee-members remained mostly stuck in general questions about mental health. Ford said repeatedly that she had taken “copious notes” yet she asked MPs on several occasions to repeat their questions for clarity. This made me think that the lady was not taking any chances.

MP Rolando Brison revealed during the meeting that he suffered from BPD – Borderline Personality Disorder. “There is nothing to be ashamed off. I can serve my country and still live with BPD,” Brison said.

This is certainly not the place to ridicule someone’s mental state of mind, but, since I had never heard of BPD I looked it up. According to the web site WebMD.com it is a serious mental illness without a known cause. “It is believed to be a combination of the way your brain is built and the things you experience in life.”

The condition could be genetic or it could be triggered by for instance abuse or neglect. BPD affects personal emotions, inspires to taking unnecessary risks and can lead to serious financial issues.

Brison’s revelation maybe did not have a lot to do with the committee’s agenda, but it did send a clear message to others who suffer from mental challenges: there is nothing to be ashamed off.

Whether Ethegrity’s contract with the Mental Health Foundation will ever become a reality remains an open question, though to some their offer may sound too good to turn down. On its website, the company declares: “Our therapeutic goal is to provide a superior healthcare experience with successful outcomes and to promote a positive, rewarding continuum system of healthcare that they deserve.”