McCord expected to close its doors
Durban - Durban’s cash-strapped McCord Hospital is expected to announce its closure on Tuesday, leaving 200 people without jobs after months of negotiations with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health stalled last week.
The board at the 130-year-old private facility, which in its heyday treated thousands of patients a month, will release a statement on Tuesday morning announcing the hospital’s closure after allegedly turning down a R47 million takeover deal offered by KwaZulu-Natal health.
It said the department had offered half of what the hospital was worth and it was not convinced that promises to ring fence about R20m in trust to protect it from possible future liability would be honoured.
On Monday, board chairman Paulus Zulu would not categorically confirm that the hospital would close on Tuesday.
Previously, in an interview with The Mercury, he said the board had to act in the best interests of the legacy of the hospital, that board members were volunteers and therefore could not expose themselves to possible legal claims that could be lodged for up to 21 years from now.
Also, a financial audit of the facility earlier this year had valued the buildings and equipment at more than R100m, while the department had offered R47m “lock, stock and barrel”.
The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union’s KZN spokesman, Zola Saphetha, said: “Nobody has a job today.
“We attended a meeting yesterday to get clarity. We thought it would close in October. We were going to meet with our lawyers on Thursday to move forward with an interdict, but the employer is closing down (Tuesday).”
Zulu said a letter had been sent to the department on Monday and an email circulated on Monday afternoon stated an announcement on the closure of the hospital would be made at 10am on Tuesday.
A hospital union member known to The Mercury, but who asked to remain anonymous, said most of the wards were closed, with only one of three patients admitted at the weekend remaining under treatment.
“We are not sure what will happen. There is only one patient. Two wards are open, the rest of the wards are closed.
“We are worried if other patients come here looking for help. What if there is an emergency?”
While KZN MEC for Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo said he had yet to see the letter as he was in Pretoria on Monday, he said at a departmental portfolio committee in Pietermaritzburg last week that the R47m “rescue” deal was off until the board signed the agreement. He added that he would not budge on the demands made by the board regarding the public liability claims.
He said the provincial treasury had agreed to ring fence money to cover any liability, but a demand by the board to put R20m “into their purse” could not be countenanced.
He said an interim management agreement had been signed earlier this year by his department and McCord and was due to expire at the end of this month.
However, he said, McCord “suddenly cancelled that agreement at the end of August”.
He added the department would not be responsible for any of this month’s operational costs.
In June last year, McCord repeatedly appealed for confirmation that a R70m grant from the department - which will overspend its budget by about R900m this year - would be renewed after funding from the US fell away.
At the end of December, when the department failed to meet the deadline to confirm grant funding, the McCord board made a decision to close the hospital at the end of February.
However, after an outcry from the public, then-KZN premier Zweli Mkhize, who qualified as a doctor at the hospital, intervened. The decision by the provincial government to take over the hospital was approved by the cabinet, who then ordered a due diligence assessment. The assessment was concluded last month, after which the agreement was drawn up.