Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu
Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu

Life Esidimeni mental patients died of hunger, cold

By Goitsemang Tlhabye Time of article published Feb 3, 2017

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Pretoria - A staggering 55 of the 94 mentally ill patients who died after they were moved from Life Esidimeni Health Care Centre were from Pretoria.

The patients died of cold and hunger, dehydration and general lack of care.

The capital and other regions bore the brunt of the mismanagement that saw mentally ill patients moved from Life Esidimeni to NGOs across the province.

They were transferred after former MEC Qedani Mahlangu terminated the contract with Life Esidimeni Health Care Centre on March 31, 2016.

An estimated 1371 chronically mentally ill patients were moved to NGOs from April 1 to June 30 - most of them to the city.

Close to 900 patients were moved to Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre, Siyabadinga, Anchor in Cullinan, Precious Angels in Atteridgeville and Tshepong in Hammanskraal.

Precious Angels had 20 deaths, Tshepong 10 and Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre, Siyabadinga and Anchor collectively recorded 25 deaths.

The sick spent three months in facilities that had no trained staff nor funds to cater for them. The homes also had inadequate facilities and many patients without medical records.

The report by the Office of Health Standards Compliance looked into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 94 mentally ill patients, transferred to 27 NGOs across the province last year.

DA shadow MEC for Health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, said the city's loss of 55 patients was the worst in the province.

Bloom said his observations of the centres revealed that Tshepong, in particular, seemed like a dormitory. It did not look completely bad, but it had been difficult to assess the NGO's medical facilities.

“Tshepong seemed to have been improved after complaints were levelled at the department, but it only had basic facilities," Bloom said.

"Precious Angels was a residential house and was completely unsuitable for the patients."

Patients were reportedly sent to NGOs without medical records or medication and had poor hygiene and nutritional status.

Precious Angels - where the majority of deaths occurred - had already been under investigation by the SA Human Rights Commission.

During the commission’s investigations into the centre it found the NGO abandoned and an inquest had been under way for the deaths of 13 patients.

A look into looking possible human rights violations such as the right to life, access to healthcare, the right to dignity, the right to freedom and security of the person, access to information and proper consultation had already been

initiated.

Additionally, cruel and inhumane care, and allegations that patients had died of hunger and dehydration were also being looked into.

The NGO only had a licence to care for children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities, but patients with different needs and mental problems had been sent there.

The report stated that the head of department, Dr Ephraim Selebano, admitted that they should have done a proper fit-for-purpose assessment and accepted that they were unfair to Precious Angels because they had sent too many different types of patients - from intellectually disabled, demented, chronic and elderly to bedridden.

“He claimed in pursuit of what they wanted to achieve they forgot the families. That’s when he noted they are doing it the wrong way,” the report stated.

Contributory factors that could have led to the deaths of the patients at Precious Angels were hunger and cold. “The rooms were very cold and there was no food to feed them due the department taking three months to pay them. So they were struggling to buy food. At Tshepong it was the same food situation and Dr Makgabo Manamela (department director) was informed about this.”

In the report, blame was apportioned to Mahlangu and senior officials in the department.

The release of the report and the subsequent resignation of the MEC attracted anger and disgust from different sectors of society, with families of the dead calling her a coward and others calling for criminal charges to be levelled against her.

Meanwhile, a number of the NGOs responsible for the negligent care leading to the deaths refused to speak, insisting the state answered for them over the tragedy.

The provincial government’s spokesperson Thabo Masebe said the office of Premier David Makhura would only be focusing on the relocation of patients, as per the recommendations of the report by the Health Ombudsman.

However, the licensing of NGOs as mental health facilities and the possibility that many of the organisations that housed these patients were unlicensed, would be only be dealt with once new MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa has been sworn in.

“We are not dealing with the licensing of the organisations; we are dealing with the recommendations of the ombudsman that said we must move the patients. The aim is that by next week she would be sworn in. Once she has been sworn in, the process of her appointment will be facilitated,” he said.

Pretoria News

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