MEC eases worries on mortuaries

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KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo. PICTURE: GCINA DWALANE

Durban - There is no crisis at Durban’s Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street Mortuary, KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo has insisted.

He admitted there were problems, but said these were being attended to, and called for sensitivity from morgue workers when dealing with the public. He implored them to go the extra mile. Lazy workers must be moved, he said.

On Wednesday, the Daily News reported that bodies were piling up at the mortuary and at local state hospitals after disgruntled mortuary staff downed tools, yet again, this time in protest against “unhygienic and stinky” working conditions.

Sources said bodies were decomposing because the fridges were not working and the staff complained of poor management and defective equipment.

It was claimed that more than 30 bodies were awaiting post-mortems, while 30 were awaiting pauper’s burials.

The KZN Department of Health was also accused of failing to comply with occupational health and safety regulations.

Families were reportedly not being allowed to identify the bodies of loved ones.

Dhlomo, who was addressing a press briefing yesterday, said the issues causing the staff distress were largely operational and could be resolved.

The MEC said he was studying forensic pathology and did his practicals at the Magwaza Maphalala mortuary. He said the equipment used was of the highest quality.

Dhlomo said he had done a walkabout and could confirm that all but one of the mortuary’s four cold rooms functioned well. He said a fridge door had malfunctioned and had been temporarily fixed, but a permanent solution was needed.

He said the 30 unclaimed bodies were moved on Tuesday by the eThekwini municipality.

Normally, he said, after 30 days an unclaimed body should be removed by the municipality and stored underground. Fingerprints were taken by the SAPS and stored so loved ones could still reclaim a body.

He appealed to morgue workers to be extra diligent.

“Of all the units that have to be customer friendly, it has to be this one (forensic services), because you are dealing with customers who are extremely distressed. They’ve lost loved ones, and employees need to be extremely sympathetic,” he said.

Mandla Mazizi, the provincial general manager of forensic services, said the Magwaza Maphalala mortuary needed more staff, and the staff complement of 45 were having to work overtime.

He said they were in the process of appointing 15 more people.

Provincially, 28 more staff are needed. He noted there are 41 mortuaries in KZN.

Mazizi said the mortuary was not overburdened and had never been full to its capacity of 204 bodies.

“There may be a perception that unidentified bodies are piling up, but there’s no such thing,” he said. “Gale Street is the busiest mortuary in the province… The perception of a pile-up could be due to the fact that we are continuously improving our processes.”

Mazizi said it was a legal requirement that fingerprints be taken of unidentified bodies, and advertisements sometimes had to be placed calling for the person to be claimed.

He said this process involved three departments and four agencies, which needed to work seamlessly together.

Sometimes, bodies piled up because there were pending investigations and post-mortems, he added.

Mazizi said post-mortems were not conducted on Monday because of an urgent meeting between management and staff to clarify certain issues.

Urgent post-mortems were sent to the Phoenix mortuary.

On Tuesday, Mazizi said staff had helped the city’s service provider to clear bodies which would receive a pauper’s burial.

National Education Health and Allied Workers Union provincial secretary Zola Saphetha said the department had promised to pay overtime by today, but they feared this was not going to happen.

“We are giving them until the close of business (today) before deciding on a course of action. Some staff have not been paid their overtime dating back to 2009,” he said.

He said the union planned to open a criminal case against the department on Monday for “deliberately putting the lives of staff at risk”.

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