'This is my mother, man. This is not a dog'
Pretoria - A picture posted on social media of a 76-year-old woman lying on a tiled hospital floor cuffed to a bench caused an outrage - and the family who found her like that say they will not rest until those responsible have been dealt with.
On Friday afternoon, the Marais family, both traumatised and livid, laid charges of assault against the Mamelodi Day Hospital at the Mamelodi East police station.
The claim is that Martha Marais, fondly called “Ouma”, was tied to a bench when she became hysterical, and she fell to the floor. In a video released on social media, one can hear her daughter, Stephnie Marais, asking what is going on after she went on Wednesday to check up on her mother who had been referred to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon from the Eersterust clinic.
“This is my mother, man. This is not a dog. Is it right for me to come and find my mother like this? Is this right? She is 76 years old, and this is what you are doing to her?”
A number of investigations have been launched into the incident, including by the provincial and national health authorities and the SA Human Rights Commission.
First to respond was the newly appointed Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku, who went to the hospital and met management and the hospital board before visiting Marais in the casualty ward, and apologising to her for the treatment. He gave the hospital 72 hours to respond.
The Health Department’s Mothomone Pitsi said staff implicated in the incident had given statements and their fate was being discussed.
“We must maintain dignity of our patients and our officials should maintain high level of professionalism. At face value, it appears that the patient was ill-treated, and the standard operating procedure was not followed to the latter,” the Gauteng Health Department said in a statement.
Family spokesperson Virginia Keppler, Martha’s niece, said those responsible must pay for their cruelty.
“Dismissing the culprits, or even taking them to court to face the full might of the law would send a stern message to the health sector,” she said.
Accompanied by a large media contingent Keppler - herself a journalist - said the family was worried at the state of “Ouma” after the incident. “She is way less interactive and looks visibly traumatised,” she said.
The family is trying to arrange a transfer for Marais to Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
Gauteng SAHRC manager Buang Jones said the commission was alarmed by the incident. “The legal team will touch base with the family, and we are aware of the investigation that has been initiated by the new MEC (of Health), but we also have a responsibility to promote and to protect human rights, and to hold government accountable, and we will be demanding answers,” he said.
The Health Department has also launched an investigation and on Friday senior hospital staff and the relevant stakeholders were involved in meetings.
Tshwane MMC for Health Derrick Kissoonduth expressed his sympathy, but said it was a provincial matter.
The hospital caters to patients from Mamelodi, Nellmapius, Eersterust, East Lynne, Pretoria East, Cullinan, Nkangala and Bronkhorstspruit.