In less than a year’s time iconic Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta (HBUK) is set to celebrate its hundredth anniversary. When the hospital was opened on November 1, 1911, its founding father and first director, Dr W.F. Samuels, wanted to name it the Federal Lunatic Asylum. He, however, acceded to pressure from the medical fraternity who were mindful of the negative connotations such a name would engender. It was named the Central Mental Hospital Tanjong Rambutan, instead.
The name Tanjong Rambutan and its abbreviation “TR” subsequently became synonymous with those afflicted with mental problems – real or imagined. In the mid-1970s it was renamed Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta, for want of a less derogatory term in Bahasa Malaysia.
HBUK sits on a 503-acre site of which 300 acres are built-up. This is where the centre’s treatment facilities are concentrated. The remaining 203 acres are used for rehabilitation purposes such as farming and animal husbandry.
When it first started, the centre consisted of only three male wards and one female ward. Today there are a total of 79 wards, 54 for males and 25 for females. The hospital can take 2,600 patients at any one time making it the largest mental institution in the country. However, a gradual reduction in capacity has been enforced for reasons of expedience. The centre’s ability to do so is due to the success of its community-based psychiatric programme introduced in 2008.
According to Dato’ Dr. Suarn Singh, Director and Senior Psychiatric Consultant (Forensic), HBUK has undergone numerous changes since its inception a century ago. The hospital’s transformation has impacted the way the general public views the centre.
“We’ve adopted a three-prong approach in treating the mentally ill,” Suarn Singh told Ipoh Echo. He was referring to the community-based programme, which the hospital has been pursuing in earnest. “First, we do house calls to treat those with mental problems. Second, we provide psychiatric treatment and consultation at selected district hospitals in the state. Finally, we established community treatment centres known as Pusat Kesihatan Mental Masyarakat Kerajaan.” These measures have helped reduce relapse cases from 25 per cent previously to 0.45 per cent, currently, said the director.