A tussle over legal liability in the years ahead has emerged as the stumbling block in the province’s takeover of Durban’s McCord Hospital.
This emerged amid fears of the 103-year-old institution closing at the end of the month, and a union threat yesterday to interdict the hospital board from doing so.
Board chairman, Professor Paulus Zulu, praised the efforts of the health department in stepping in with a rescue package, but said it fell short of protecting board members from future lawsuits.
“We reached consensus in most areas of the takeover of the hospital by the department, but the issue that has led to a deadlock is the retrospective lawsuits which board members could potentially face.
“This means we could face lawsuits for any act of negligence or other hospital action up to one year by an adult or 20 years by a child,” he said.
“And as board members we needed some financial reserve as part of the takeover package to protect us against such future action. This is where we disagreed with the department, as the offer made fell drastically below the figure we felt was needed to cover the liability of the board.”
Zulu did not specify the gap, but it is believed it could be many millions.
National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) provincial secretary, Zola Sepetha, said the union was enraged at the “dirty tricks” campaign being waged by the board of directors, accusing it of putting profits before human lives.
“The board of McCord Hospital has acted in bad faith because as a union we worked tirelessly to find a solution when they said they could no longer sustain the hospital financially,” he said.
Sepetha said the department then stepped in with a bailout plan earlier this year, saying it would take over the hospital, which the board agreed to.
“They have now pulled out of that agreement, saying they will cancel their service level agreement with the department and close the hospital’s doors this month, under the guise that they want more money for the take-over,” he said. “There is no way as a union we are going to allow the hospital to cease operating, leading not only to job losses but health care to communities who depend on McCord. Our lawyers are preparing to apply for an interdict to prevent the closure.”
Sepetha said if the union did not succeed in court it would ask the department to take over all McCord’s staff and deploy them to other provincial health facilities.
In a statement to the department this week, the hospital’s board said it had been legally advised to terminate its service level agreement and cease its operations this month because no resolution could be reached on the final figure for the takeover.
The department said there was an agreement to take over the hospital and all that was needed was the signatures to finalise this process. Addressing protesters outside the hospital yesterday, Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said his department was still committed to the takeover.
The controversy over the closure of the landmark hospital began earlier this year after the department said it would stop subsiding the facility to the tune of more than R78 million a year after cutbacks in the hospital’s international funding meant it could no longer offer HIV/Aids health services – a key condition of the department’s grant.
The hospital said it could not sustain operations without a state subsidy and would have to shut down. The department then said it would take over McCord, with a view to converting it into a fully-fledged public health facility. - The Daily News