The affordable education loan option
Durban - KwaZulu-Natal’s Finance MEC, Ina Cronjé, has called for an independent valuation of all McCord Hospital’s buildings in a last-minute bid to save the iconic institution.
The hospital remains closed except for emergencies, amid an acrimonious breakdown in negotiations between the hospital’s board and KZN’s Department of Health which was poised to take over the facility last month.
Responding to a query from the Daily News, Cronjé’s spokesman, Musa Cebisa, confirmed that while Cronjé was not in a position to instruct either party on who should be appointed, she was in favour of an independent valuation to break the impasse.
“The government of KwaZulu-Natal would be agreeable to the appointment of an independent evaluator that both parties would be happy with,” Cebisa said.
Approached for comment, hospital board chairman, Professor Paulus Zulu, and the head of the KZN Health Department, Dr Sibongile Zungu, said they welcomed the suggestion.
The latest development is seen as a glimmer of hope to save the 104-year-old hospital from closure after it was shut on Friday, amid a war of words.
Staff have accused board members of wanting to profit from the sale of McCord rather than allowing a takeover by the department, which would turn it into a fully fledged state health facility and avert job losses.
The board has maintained that the department’s offer was not market related, and provided insufficient protection for board members against future medical claims of negligence.
Members of an interim management committee formed by hospital staff, who passed a vote of no confidence in the board on Friday, yesterday called for a criminal investigation into the financial operations of the hospital.
They accused the board of failing to make a full disclosure of how money was being spent. “The Public Protector must step in to conduct a forensic investigation into the hospital’s finances because we believe the board has not been truthful,” said Dudu Ngidi, a hospital nurse and member of the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).
“They have three bank accounts operating at McCord Hospital and staff are instructed on which accounts monies should be deposited into.
“They claim poverty and say they are unable to keep the hospital running yet they are using funds from the department of health to foot their legal bills, appoint independent consultants and even a PR management company to handle their public image during this process when they should be looking at saving jobs.”
Several senior staff members said they were recently approached by previous acting chief executive of the hospital, Kevin Smith, to work in the hospital’s former Sinikithemba HIV Care Centre amid plans to turn it into a private facility.
“Smith approached us just before he left, which was in July this year and said the centre was being sold to a private company and would be turned into a private medical centre. An offer was made and the centre was even painted in preparation for this.
“We were shocked because this was done while negotiations for a takeover with the department of health were still under way and the department was not advised about this deal with a private company on the centre,” said head of outpatients and emergencies unit, Dr Sam Naidoo.
Hospital medical manager, Dr Jay Mannie, who has worked at McCord for 27 years, confirmed he had also been approached by Smith to work in the proposed medical centre.
“The care centre was painted in preparation for the private buy-out and only recently did the department become aware that certain buildings were excluded from the takeover, which is when talks broke down.
“As medical manager, I was asked to provide a figure to the department on cases of medical claims that we were dealing with. We found that the hospital had 27 current cases, six of which were high risk that could potentially have future litigation implications.
“We indicated to the department that although the current figure was R20m, this could potentially rise to a maximum of R30m in the future.
“The department was then prepared to increase their risk offer to meet this. However the board wanted more, and pushed this figure up to R100m, saying it was based on a scientific assessment,” said Mannie.
Zulu shot back at these accusations, calling them “complete cr*p”.
“I do not know of any staff being approached to work in a private facility at the hospital, and the reason for painting the former HIV Centre was that we had some paint left over so decided to use it for this purpose.
“Dr Mannie is incapable of running the hospital and not qualified to come up with the figure for medical claims. He can go to court to call for an investigation into the existence of angels for all I care,” said an irate Zulu.
On accusations that the hospital had three bank accounts, Zulu said there was nothing untoward about this. “It is fairly common for businesses to have more than one account, so what? All our financials are audited annually by Deloitte and Touche,” he said.
But Smith,who is now a non-executive director at the hospital, confirmed that he had approached several hospital staff to work in the proposed medical centre at the hospital.
“Yes, I did ask them if they were interested and we discussed the option of them working there, but we were considering our options at that stage and turning the facility into a private medical centre was one of them.
“However I did not make any firm offer of employment to any staff,” Smith said.
The hospital’s newly formed interim management committee is preparing to apply to the courts to dissolve the hospital board while Nehawu’s interdict hearing to prevent the board from closing the hospital was due to be heard in court on Monday.