Concern over relocation of mental health care facility in Phoenix

Patients outside the Starwood Clinic in Phoenix. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo

Patients outside the Starwood Clinic in Phoenix. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo

Published Oct 1, 2021


Durban: The families and patients of the Starwood Clinic are concerned about the relocation of the mental health care facility in Phoenix.

The clinic, based in the same building as the Sassa office in Pandora Street, will operate from the Phoenix Community Health Care (CHC) from next month.

The Starwood Clinic treats outpatients and dispenses medication to those with mental health-related issues such as schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. Those who attend the clinic have raised their concerns, but the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal said the move would be beneficial to patients.

Leeanne Allasigadu, of Eastbury, has been taking her brother Trevor, 41, to the clinic for more than 20 years. Her brother, who is blind, was diagnosed with epilepsy and requires medication for anxiety.

“I have never had a problem with the Starwood Clinic. The lines move fast, and the staff are accommodating. At the new facility, I was told the queues would be longer, and if we are not there early enough, we may have to return the following day. It is difficult to travel with Trevor by public transport, and now we have to take two taxis instead of one. Those who suffer from anxiety get restless and angry when forced to wait, so I am worried."

Barbara Pillay, of Foresthaven, said her brother-in-law, Dhanadalan Govender, 49, was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 10 years ago. Pillay and her husband took care of him after Govender's wife died a few months ago.

"If the Department of Health really wanted to improve the quality of services it provided to patients with mental health issues, then they should have opened more clinics in communities. They are, instead, sending patients to existing facilities that already have a number of outpatients."

A 34-year-old mother of one, who was diagnosed with depression, said she was bullied in high school and now took medication to help her cope.

"I was bullied because I was not light-skinned or had straight teeth. The girls used to pull my hair or trip me. I ended up leaving school and became depressed. I now depend on medication to get through the day. The health department offered a good and convenient facility. Why fix what's not broken?"

Another mother of one, who declined to be named, said she was concerned about the safety of other patients. Her son, 39, was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than 10 years ago.

“Even though he is on medication, he still has outbursts and becomes violent. I cannot control him. How are they going to now treat or assist patients with mental health conditions in close proximity to pregnant women and the elderly?"

Rishigen Viranna, the DA’s spokesperson on health in the province, said: "The DA's councillors in Phoenix and I have been inundated with complaints regarding the closure of the clinic and being transferred to the CHC. Patients and their families have said the CHC is already overwhelmed by patients and that it has a shortage of staff.

"We have since written to Nomakiki Majola, the chairperson of the KZN Health Portfolio Committee, requesting an urgent inspection of accommodation and other aspects of readiness at the care centre. The people of Phoenix cannot afford to suffer from a further compromised healthcare service.”

Ntokozo Maphisa, the spokesperson for the Department of Health in KZN, said the relocation was part of the requirements of the government's Ideal Clinic service delivery model. He said the relocation was planned since 2019, but it was delayed due to the challenge brought on by Covid-19.

“The mental health care clinic was initially a stand-alone clinic, which was later taken over by the Department of Health and meant to integrate with the CHC, which is what is currently being done.”

He said mental health care fell under the chronic ailments stream and was part of the Phoenix CHC establishment and organisational structure.

Maphisa said the move would be beneficial to patients as they would receive holistic, comprehensive, and properly supervised care at the correct level, with 24-hour access.

“Moving mental health care services to Phoenix CHC means that patients will not have to attend separate clinics for their different medication, which will decrease the number of visits for a patient. It will also mean 24-hour access to doctors, whereas currently, they only have one day a week, with a doctor at the clinic. Supervision will be enhanced with operational managers readily available as well as extended and senior management on-site at Phoenix CHC."

He said mental health care users would be fast-tracked through the patient flow system.

“We do not anticipate a scenario where patients will not receive their treatment the same day as their medication is pre-packed and will be dispensed as it currently is. Patients will also be evenly distributed to see the doctor across the whole week. Adequate space has also been identified and prepared for patients' needs at the Phoenix CHC."

Maphisa said patients would have the opportunity to merge their files and collect all their medication, including for other chronic or infectious diseases, under one appointment.

“This will therefore decrease costs to patients and make their health care more convenient."

Maphisa said the staff at the Starwood Clinic were notified to inform patients that the move was permanent.

Cassey Chambers, the operations director at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), said one in three South Africans would or do have a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime. She said there was a shortage of mental health care facilities and services throughout the country.

“And the facilities we do have are full or over-crowded. They do not have enough medication or staff. We get daily calls from people who can't access help due to the shortage of space, not having enough medicine, and not having staff to see patients. It is, therefore, important that mental health is prioritised and that the specialised clinics remain open. The government needs to allocate more funds towards the building and upkeep of such facilities."

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