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Families fight state bid to close mental facilities

By Youlendree Appasamy | 2016-02-20 09:26:17.0

Families of mentally ill patients at Life Healthcare Esidimeni hospitals, a leading private hospital operator in the country, took to the streets of Johannesburg yesterday to protest against the Gauteng provincial health department's plans to relocate their loved ones.

The department announced its termination of the contract with Life Healthcare Esidimeni in October 2015, and as the March 31 deadline for patient relocation looms large, concerned family members believe the department is acting unlawfully, unethically and in a callous way.

Nompilo Nkosi, convener of the march, delivered a memorandum on behalf of family members to the Gauteng health department, which she said was "threatening the wellbeing, rights and lives of their loved ones".

"We are here for our loved ones because they cannot speak or march for themselves," Nkosi said.

Life Healthcare Esidimeni offers a wide range of specialised psychiatric facilities ranging from the elderly to children at their various hospitals throughout the province. They also cater for patients with severe intellectual disabilities.

Explaining the termination of the contract, Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said the department wanted to reduce psychiatric patients at facilities by discharging all those who are responding well to treatment and integrate them back to communities and afford them treatment at their respective homes.

Currently, there are 1535 patients at Life Healthcare Esidimeni who will be relocated by the end of next month.

"During 2014/15 financial year, the department spent about R323-million on the said hospital for treatment of around 2378 patients.

"It is important to note that the department cannot afford this, the budget allocation which was previously utilised on the said facility will be re-prioritised," said Mahlangu.

Nkosi said: "Experts spoke out and told the department the plan was not feasible, however the department ignored them."

After a threat of legal action from concerned family members last year, the department entered into a settlement agreement in which it stopped all discharges from the hospital as well as consult with family members, said Nkosi.

 

The department was tasked with renovations of other facilities - namely the old Germiston Hospital, empty wards at Weskoppies and Sterkfontein, the Dan Pienaar creche in Parktown and the old nurses residence at the Transvaal Memorial Institute.

Following the settlement agreement, families say the department has not sought consultation with them.

The families' demands, include being part of the department's consultation and planning process and keeping the mental health facilities at Life Healthcare Esidimeni open until such a date that the department can humanely and lawfully close them.

Gauteng health department spokesman Steven Mabona said renovations will be finished in earnest, in time for the patients to move in and that consultations with non-governmental organisations were underway.

Andrew Pieterson, interim chairman of the committee representing the families, said they were currently in discussions with the department, and a follow-up meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

appasamyy@sowetan.co.za

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