Hospitals 'reject' homeless man
Pretoria - As homeless man Themba Khumalo limps his way to a distant recycling spot, pushing a heavy trolley, he hopes to make money for another hospital consultation fee, after recently being turned away from Steve Biko Hospital where he has been to try to get orthopaedics implants removed from his legs.
The 57-year-old tells of being turned away from the city hospital without medical attention last month because "beds are fully booked”.
He sleeps on the corner of Pagel and Earl streets in Pretoria North, and has been living with the painful implants for over two years.
He believes he is being denied medical attention because he is homeless.
When a team from the Pretoria News spoke to Khumalo he was visibly in pain.
“I was hit by a car and rushed to George Mukhari in 2016, where metal screws and pins were inserted in my arm and knees," he said. "I’ve had them since and they need to be removed, but they keep sending me away, giving me new dates.
“Here in my knee where they put a bandage, the pins are starting to show and it is so painful, I can’t even walk properly any more."
Last year he turned to Steve Biko, only to experience the same problem: “My first trip there was on July 29, and I was told to come back on August 11. I went then, and I was told to come back on September 1, and then I was told to come back on October 13.”
He explained that he collected enough money both for transport and consultation and turned up each time.
A few days after the Pretoria News spoke to Khumalo last month, he was called to Steve Biko Academic Hospital and admitted, and just as he was thinking the torture was coming to an end, he was told to leave after two days: “They said I must come back after four weeks.”
He says he lay in casualty on both days: “A professor there did an X-Ray using his phone, looked at the scans and gave me a date, saying I must come back on March 20. It hurts me deeply that I’m being denied surgery because of being homeless.”
As he still had an ID before the incident, files were opened at both the hospitals.
The father of five, originally from KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal, said he made R190 a week from recycling, which goes towards feeding his family.
He had moved to Pretoria when he got a job as a plumber, but had lost both his home and his job after the accident. He said his domestic worker wife came to Pretoria to see him sometimes, and when she did she slept on the streets with him.
City residents Clerk Ruth Jacobs and Willem Cenci have been feeding Khumalo as part of their project, People Do Care, that feeds about 200 homeless people. They said the homeless in Pretoria had no justice.
Said Jacobs: “They send him back because he is homeless. We often wait for long hours for ambulances and we are told they are not a priority. They don’t even want to take the homeless, and if you are lucky that they do, they get discharged the following day.
“It is not a hip replacement he needs, they must just remove the pins, that’s all,” Jacobs said.
According to Jacobs, George Mukhari hospital said Khumalo could only be treated there because of his jurisdiction.
“When he asked for his file so he could go somewhere else, they said he couldn’t go anywhere else.”
She said he was then told his file was lost when they developed a new system. He was given a new card, which effectively meant his originally consultations no longer existed.
Jacobs spoke emotionally of Khumalo’s ordeal, saying he needed urgent assistance for sepsis.
“What’s even worse is they make him pay at these hospitals.
"He paid R100 at George Mukhari and he paid R65 at Steve Biko. Before he goes to the hospital he has to make enough money so he can pay.”
Pictures of receipts where Khumalo had paid R65, were shown to the Pretoria News.
When the couple started the project all they wanted was to feed the homeless: “But then they started talking to us. On our Facebook page we are now searching for jobs for them and places to stay.”
George Mukhari’s chief executive, Dr Freddy Kgongwana, said they were aware of Khumalo’s case, but denied turning him away.
“He is receiving medical treatment here, Mr Khumalo is scheduled by the doctors to have medical check-ups every month It is therefore not true that he has been sent away without adequate medical attention.”