Life Esidimeni tragedy: what steps have been taken to heal the hurt caused?
The Life Esidimeni saga in which about 100 mentally ill and vulnerable patients in Gauteng died after being forcibly removed from private care and put into cheaper‚ ill-equipped NGOs made international headlines.
The rushed relocation of patients headed by the Gauteng Department of Health took place despite court action‚ laws about the required standards of mental health patient care and warnings from NGOs who represented patients.
Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba gave numerous instructions to the Gauteng Department of Health after he led an inquiry into the matter and released his findings. His recommendations included suspending those responsible for the relocation‚ instituting disciplinary action against some officials and moving all patients from NGOs to stop the deaths.
Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa and the acting head of the Gauteng Health Department‚ Dr Ernest Kenoshi‚ gave an update on their progress in implementing those recommendations by the Health Ombudsman.
Below‚ are some of the key questions that they answered:
Q: How many patients have been moved from the NGOs since the Ombudsman’s report in February?
A: 592 patients have been moved from NGOs to a Life Esidimeni home in Roodepoort and to Clinix Selby Park Hospital in the Johannesburg CBD‚ a privately run hospital that takes state patients.
Q: How many patients are still to be moved?
A: There are 210 to be moved to a Life Esidimeni home in Germiston called the Waverly Care Centre. It is expected all patients‚ many who are very low functioning‚ will be moved by the end of April according to the Gauteng Department of Health
Q: Where have they been moved?
A: They have been moved to the Life Baneng home in Roodepoort and Clinix Selby Park Hospital in Johannesburg. The remaining 200 or so will be moved to the Life Esidimeni Waverly Care Centre in Germiston‚ which was closed following the forced removals of these mentally ill patients.
Q: How many people are suspended on full pay?
A: The suspended Head of Department‚ Dr Barney Selebano‚ and head of Mental Health Services‚ Dr Makgabo Manamela‚ are both suspended on full pay. Seven other officials are suspended while their disciplinary process is ongoing. Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramakgopa said they were trying to “expedite the disciplinary hearings” so that there is no delay and they do not have to pay people to sit at home.
Q: How are the hearings going?
A: An advocate has been appointed to chair the disciplinary hearings for all seven officials. Lawyers are preparing disciplinary action now.
Both (the) HOD (Selebano) and Manamela are facing separate disciplinary action and await dates for them to start. They have submitted representations to the Ombudsman to respond to his report.
Q: How many patients have died since the patients were moved from NGOs into properly run facilities?
A: About six have died‚ although the department of health needs to confirm the figure. One death was from pancreatic cancer‚ another was diabetes-related and another was caused by a heart attack.
Ramakgopa pointed out that not a single patient death since the Ombudsman’s findings had been as a result of poor care‚ starvation or dehydration as was the case with the 100 patients who died in illegal NGOs.
Q: Where are the other 800 patients?
A: Of the 1‚600 patients that were staying at Life Esidimeni facilities at the time of forced removals in May and June last year‚ 800 are in NGOs or the new facilities and 800 are at their homes or staying in state hospitals including Weskoppies and Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital. If they are well enough to leave these state hospitals‚ they will be moved to Waverly Care Centre‚ said Dr Ernest Kenoshi.
Q: Has the Omdubsman agreed to the delay requested to move them following his report?
A: He is a happy with the progress of moving patients‚ according to Kenoshi. Makgoba agreed to extend his timeframes for moving patients to better institutions. There were requests from patients’ familes that the process not be rushed as it would distress the mentally ill.