Newsmaker – Dr Kelly Gate: Gatekeeper of health

2013-11-25 08:00

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Bethesda Hospital’s manager thinks medical care is a right

Head about 350km up the N2 from Durban and follow the signs for Ubombo.

Here, you’ll leave the N2 – and you’ll feel it, too.

The roads deteriorate quickly and the last 20km to Bethesda Hospital take you winding up the side of a mountain, dodging people, livestock and oncoming traffic that’s pulled on to your side of the road to avoid the same obstacles.

It’s worth the rather perilous last stretch, as many locals who rely on Bethesda Hospital to keep them healthy will attest: this is home to South Africa’s finest public servant.

Last week, Bethesda’s medical manager, Dr Kelly Gate, became the first winner of the Best Overall Batho Pele Public Servant of the Year award, presented by the department of public service and administration.

He also bagged the gold award for Best Public Service Leader of the Year.

When she presented the awards during a ceremony at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng, on November 14, Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said: “These awards happen at a time in our calendar where, with elections a few months away, what seems to consume the public is that which we have not done right, and what consumes our people is frustration at the delivery of services.”

The awards, Sisulu said, were designed to “recognise excellence in the public service, acknowledge and encourage it and, in exceptional cases, ensure that we can urge and mature it to greater heights of delivery”.

Gate is no stranger to awards – he was named Rural Doctor of the Year in 2012 and also featured among the Mail?&?Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans this year.

But he’s uncomfortable discussing these honours. “I don’t deserve these – I don’t think any individual does,” he tells City Press during an interview at Bethesda Hospital.

Besides, he explains, it’s easy to bag awards with the right team behind you.

Gate was born and raised in the tiny town of Arnot in Mpumalanga.

His mother was a nurse – and the only medical professional in the town.

He helped out, and this kindled his desire to study medicine and follow in his mother’s footsteps.

His relationship with Bethesda started in 2004 when he finished his medical degree at the University of Pretoria and was posted to the hospital in KwaZulu-Natal for his compulsory community service.

The hospital was built in 1937 by the Methodist Church and later taken over by the provincial government.

Along with the seven clinics it runs in the area and its staff’s house visits, Bethesda Hospital is responsible for the health and wellbeing of 110?000 people.

The hospital quickly became more than just a professional home for Gate – he met his wife-to-be Mary-Jane there when she was completing her community service as a dietician.

Once their community service was over, the couple left Bethesda and went to work overseas.

Gate needed the money to pay off his student loans.

They returned briefly in 2007 but then moved to Durban, where they both worked at the now-closed McCord Hospital.

Everything changed in November 2010.

Gate received a phone call from the hospital’s CEO asking him to return as medical manager.

He and Mary-Jane discussed the job offer and realised it was exactly what they wanted to do with their lives.

Gate says 70% of healthcare professionals in South Africa are in the private sector, servicing 30% of the population.

Since he believes that healthcare is a right, and not something you should only be able to access if you can afford it, the move to Bethesda made perfect sense, he explains.

He acknowledges that as a white person growing up in the 1980s – he is 35 now – he was given many opportunities and privileges denied to black South Africans.

“I was inspired to give back.”

His job means a great deal of administrative work, but he hits the wards as often as he can with junior doctors.

He works late into evenings since his real passion is dealing with patients, not paperwork.

His experience isn’t unique: many of Bethesda’s 15 doctors are there because they choose to be, finishing their community service and then staying on.

Most of the staff live on site and there is a cheerful and friendly atmosphere.

There are four doctors from the UK helping out at the moment who, Gate says, are seeing and experiencing many things they wouldn’t see elsewhere.

At Bethesda, the staff focus on establishing a genuine rapport with the 100 or so patients they treat on an average day (not counting the approximately 50 treated per doctor or nurse per day at the satellite clinics).

In the citation for his awards, Gate was described as “passionate about his work; he continues to train nurses in the hospital.

He manages seven clinics in the district. Dr Gate is very positive and energetic, and he loves his patients.”.

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