These black-and-white photos, above, hang in the museum of the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana. They show half-naked patients in bed and behind bars. Hospital workers say these were the sorts of conditions that patients endured before the 1959 revolution.
The deaths of at least 26 patients at the Psychiatric Hospital is tragic and sad. The blog Penúltimos Días broke the story on Jan. 13. Cuba's Ministry of Health confirmed the news on Jan. 15 and said the cause of the deaths was under investigation.
I shot these photos at the Psychiatric Hospital during a brief visit to the facility. Hospital personnel spoke with pride about improvements made in care of the mentally ill since 1959.
I was surprised that patients had so much freedom to roam around the hospital grounds. Some of the patients weren't at all shy about visitors for money and food, similar to what you might see outside some of the some of Old Havana tourist traps. But the atmosphere was relaxed and tranquil.
The Health Ministry said on Jan. 15 that the patient deaths were “linked to the prolonged low temperatures that reached 3.6 degrees C (38 F) . . . and to risk factors peculiar to mentally ill patients and to natural biological deterioration and complications from chronic diseases present in many of them, mainly cardiovascular problems and cancer," the Havana Times reported.
A Health Ministry statement said "deficiencies were found in measures" to protect patients. It added:
Those primarily responsible for these events will be put on trial.The hospital's unforgivable lapse comes at a time when Cuban medical personnel are rushing to aid victims of the horrific earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. I have seen Cuban doctors in action before and they performed heroically. (See photos in the post, "Those unflappable Cuban doctors.")
No one can bring back the patients who died at the Psychiatric Hospital so senselessly, but at least Cuban officials are investigating the case. The more open they are about what happened, the better. They should find out who is responsible and take steps to prevent such a tragedy in the future.
As I look at these recent photos taken on the grounds of the 2,500-patient Psychiatric Hospital, I wonder if anyone in the pictures is among those who died.
BBC report on the Havana hospital deaths
Slideshow on the Haiti earthquake disaster