Tembisa hospital staff break silence on Shonisani Lethole 'starving tweet' controversy
The Tembisa Hospital management has broken its silence over the Covid-19 patient who died after tweeting to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, pleading for food and saying he had been starving for 48 hours.
The hospital said it was “shocked and saddened” that Shonisani Lethole wrote his tweet out of anger because he was denied having the Nando's takeaway which was brought to him by a family member.
A senior manager at the hospital, who did not want to be identified due to a fear of victimisation, told The Sunday Independent that Lethole was admitted with Covid-19 symptoms on 23 June. He was admitted to private ward 23 until 27 June, when he was intubated.
The manager further revealed a report showing a three-course meal which was given to Lethole on the day of his tweet, on the evening of June 25. The report shows that he had never complained or vomited up the food he ate.
The day of his tweet to the minister was the same day he was given his results confirming he was Covid-19 positive.
The 34-year-old businessman's tweet to Mkhize three days into his stay, alerting him of his traumatic experience, read: “Mkhize can I respond to your tweets if the problems I have at one of your facilities continues, it's becoming unbearable and they don’t seem to care. Didn’t eat for 48 hours.”
The staffer said the only logical explanation why Lethole could have sent such a hurtful and damaging tweet about Tembisa Hospital was that it was because he got angry when he was denied eating takeaways.
Asked why he was denied the food brought to him, the staffer said it was hospital policy that food from outside was not allowed because "we want to be accountable for what our patients eat. Food from outside we don't know how it was prepared and also what could be inside of that food and how it will react to the patient".
The senior staffer said the businessman was attended to by a nurse who spoke Venda like him (patient) and never complained at any point about starving or the treatment he was receiving.
"We are actually shocked to say the least. How can a person say he is being starved? It is a pity you know, we are so saddened. Our wish is that God should have given the man a chance to live so that we could actually be able to know what was the reason (for his tweet).
“But right now, it is actually painful for us, even in our African culture we have great respect for the dead and we do not want to denigrate their memories or spirit, but right now we are shocked because we did everything we could that we were supposed to do to take care of him,” said the staffer.
“And what we got was that he tweeted when we were giving him food and he never complained to us. He was eating. He never told anyone that he was starving.
“You know that ward, you will see the pictures. When you show the public that ward, you will realise that this guy was in a very private ward and how can he starved?
“This actually denigrates our name. You will be surprised, we have six sisters in that ward for 16 patients. You will see our records; he was given food he ate and did not vomit,” he said.
Lethole’s uncle, Shonisani Lethole, said the Tembisa Hospital’s CEO contacted him and explained what had happened. He added that his nephew had spoken to the family after the tweet, saying he had been given food.
However, the family’s spokesperson, Abel Seminya, said the family was waiting for answers from the Gauteng Health Department. Seminya also confirmed that Lethole’s mother and his sister had gone with food (Nando's) to the hospital, but were prevented from giving it to him.
Asked if Lethole had spoken to his family about him being starved, Seminya said he was not aware of such a communication.
Gauteng Department of Health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the department was aware of the incident and that the matter was brought to the attention of the office of the MEC and was referred to the hospital’s chief executive.
The incident has seen Twitter users and political parties like the EFF bash the hospital for its alleged negligence and the bad treatment of patients.
When asked if he believed that patients were being starved at the Tembisa Hospital, DA Jack Bloom said: "I don't think this is true."