A glimpse into a Venezuelan psychiatric hospital: Cockroaches, excrement and drug shortages

PHOTO: Mental health patients stand behind the bars of their room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. PlayRayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
WATCH News headlines today: Nov. 21, 2019

In a dark room of the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, two elderly women rest on rusty beds barely covered by tattered mattresses and tangled sheets. The beds in a shabby room are not labeled with the patients' names, as there could be someone else on them that evening.

PHOTO: Mental health patients lie on their beds at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
Mental health patients lie on their beds at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

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The women are two of the thousands of mental health patients who are forced to overcome a double challenge every day: their afflictions and the increasingly lacking medical assistance that could improve their lives.

PHOTO: A mental health patient leans out of her room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
A mental health patient leans out of her room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

"This has become overcrowded with people," nurse Johana Hernandez said. The hospital, founded 126 years ago, has only one small space with capacity for around 300 patients that is suitable for use.

"As much as you want to do things right, you can't," the nurse added.

PHOTO: A view of the emergency room of the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
A view of the emergency room of the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

Cockroaches and other insects can be seen crawling the walls. They get into patients' beds and scurry through the spaces where nurses rest. Every day after 6 p.m., the hospital is left bereft of doctors as the five professionals on duty leave and go home.

The center lacks essential drugs to treat depression, schizophrenia and other diseases that affect the 36 patients who remain hospitalized. "[The medications] do arrive, but not in the necessary quantities to be able to administer them to everyone," Hernandez said.

PHOTO: A view of ampules of Diazepan at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
A view of ampules of Diazepan at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

The nurse showed Spanish news agency EFE about 20 packets of anxiolytics and sedatives with a 2016 expiration date. When things are desperate, these get used, she explained.

The facilities are filthy. An absence of maintenance personnel means garbage, human excrement and dead insects build up in rooms, bathrooms and courtyards of the sprawling building.

PHOTO: A mental health patient lies on a dirty mattress at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
A mental health patient lies on a dirty mattress at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

The largest wing has been without power for 20 months. Despite the myriad of difficulties, Hernandez and her colleagues continue to work at the center. The crisis at the hospital, which was an open secret just a month ago, is now part of public debate in a country that has been shaken by the biggest political and economic crisis in its modern history.

PHOTO: Two mental health patients look behind the bars of their room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
Two mental health patients look behind the bars of their room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

Poverty is rife, and millions of Venezuelans do not earn enough to buy food for themselves and their families. "If I'm honest, I don't know how much one earns here, because I don't live from this job," Hernandez told EFE.

Her salary at just over $6 a month is more symbolic than anything else. She does not work at the center to make ends meet, but rather to show the world and Venezuelans the harsh reality her patients face.

PHOTO: A mental health patient lies on a bed at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
A mental health patient lies on a bed at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

"If my sin was to shed light on this, well, I will have to pay the consequences," Hernandez continued. "I can't turn a blind eye and be one more person who remains silent."

Hospital services across Venezuela are going through a widespread crisis amid a shortage of medicine and the low salaries of doctors and nurses who depend on the state, which President Nicolas Maduro has led since 2013.

PHOTO: Mental health patients stand behind the bars of their room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019. Rayner Pena R/EPA via Shutterstock
Mental health patients stand behind the bars of their room at the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 14, 2019.

Dozens of protests unfold daily to demand the end of the crisis and the improvement in public services. Government opposition and health workers' unions have called for the opening of a humanitarian corridor to funnel drugs into the country.

In recent months, shipments of drugs and medical materials managed by the Red Cross and countries allied with the government, such as Russia and China, have arrived in Venezuela. But Hernandez said in the case of the Caracas Psychiatric Hospital, no donations have been received.

Reporting for this story was done by EFE.