Bel Esprit, a N$130m psychiatric haven

By Hilary Mare

SITUATED in the mountainous terrain of Olympia is a private psychiatric hospital, Bel Esprit which is Namibia’s first and only private establishment whose doors opened in June 2018.

Founded by Charine Glen-Spyron, who is a clinical psychologist and Dr. Hileni Ndjaba, a duly registered psychiatrist and the head of the mental health facility of the state hospital in Windhoek, the state of the art hospital makes provision for both in-hospital and out-of-hospital psychiatric clinical services for all Namibians.

Born of the great need presented by Namibians who require clinical assistance for mental health problems within a private hospital environment, the institution was established with an investment of approximately N$130 million.

Speaking to Confidente last week, hospital administrator, Olivia Matthaei said Bel Esprit services will be extended to neighbouring countries during 2021 as the need for psychiatric services and related symptoms has escalated severely and has become a human right for many citizens globally. 

“You will agree that the unexpected Covid-19 global disaster has a direct impact on many Namibians who are now facing new mental challenges resulting from the economic impact of Covid-19, whether it is the employer struggling to make ends meet, the employee at a company fearing retrenchments, salary sacrifices, the family environment facing poverty, facing violence and or substance abuse where the hospital plays a key part in the rehabilitation aspects of each and every patient admitted ensuring mental health improvement and an integrated lifestyle with the society after being discharged,” Matthaei explained.

Confidente understands that the initial reception of the hospital was a tough one which then gradually warmed up as more patients found refuge in this health haven.

“In general, mental health conditions globally have only very recently commenced receiving the attention that it should and Namibia is no exception. We still have a long way to go regarding the education and acceptance of mental health issues and the relevant funding thereof. We have made huge efforts to introduce our hospital to the healthcare disciplines in Namibia including the medical aid funds that have patients in need of our services.

“It is only very recently that we have experienced success in our efforts where persons who rightfully require clinical mental assistance can acquire such clinical services at Bel Esprit. However, at certain levels we still have a long way to go ensuring the acceptance of the hospital’s services and rightful payments.  There are still some parts in Namibia where doctors and other clinical professionals as well as some Namibians remain unaware of the clinical services being provided by Bel Esprit. There is also the challenge regarding the stigma associated to mental health issues and the relating treatment. A big part of our mission is to get people to know who we are and what we do and to also break the stigma that is presented around mental health and especially mental health facilities,” Matthaei further commented.

Bel Esprit does not only provide 24/7 specialised nursing care but has a multi-disciplinary approach to therapy. With social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and general practitioners taking care of clients it has a holistic approach to the treatment of any client with a need of mental health support.   The hospital has different treatment plans for the different diagnosis of all clients who become patients. It has also developed its health plans in terms of global standards. These plans provide clear guidelines as to what patients will receive and the related costs. They also provide an expectation to the patients being admitted.

“One of our biggest challenges is to provide the necessary correct care and sufficient treatment plan to our patients within the limited available benefits for those clients who belong to a medical aid fund. There is very little understanding as to how mental health issues develop and that it comes over an extended period of time and therefore has no quick fix whereby the patient may leave the facility and face the social walk of life in confidence. When benefits are depleted at medical aid funds very few patients are able to carry the costs out of their own pocket and where they are forced to leave the facility due to financial restraints but in fact are mentally not within the safe space which is within acceptable standards.

“Furthermore, while patients are in our hospital the treatment they receive is viewed as ‘out of hospital’ benefits and very often out of hospital benefits and or day-to-day benefits are depleted resulting in further financial strain for our patients who rightfully are unable to handle such stress.  Financing of our treatment plans leaves us with truly little time to attend to all the factors that led to triggering this acute psychiatric need of our clients. It is also important to understand that certain conditions are being excluded for treatment by medical aid funds and this while the primary diagnosis is a valid mental clinical condition. Sadly, in this regard we still have a long way to go,” Matthaei explained.

The hospital also offers a corporate wellness service in which it provides training to corporate companies according to their specific needs.

“Using an assessment we can identify the needs of the employees and therefore we are then able to present specific training to the company. We also offer general information sessions about the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, stress and time management and or topics such as bulling in schools or at the workplace,” further stated Matthaei adding that she would always encourage investors to invest in the healthcare sector as it plays a key part in our basic human rights.

“Here in Namibia not every person has access to medical care as per his or her needs. If we want to have a healthy economic, we need a healthy population, and which ultimately includes mental and physical health.”