R320m-hospital left to rot

2010-09-05 11:33

A state psychiatric hospital – the largest in the southern hemisphere – is only half built and has been abandoned to crumble slowly while mental patients in dire need of care rot in prison.

The grandiose project outside Kimberley, on which R320million has already been spent, ground to a halt last year when contractual ­disputes erupted between the developers and the Northern Cape’s health and ­public works departments.

The real victims are the state patients who have been kept in prison for years – without having been found guilty of any crime – ­because the health department has nowhere else to place them.

The department has been warned that it could face substantial legal claims from patients who have been deprived of care and freedom, some for as long as 10 years.

The health department has waited for more than five years for the new hospital to be built by the public works department.

Northern Cape has some of the highest rates of foetal alcohol syndrome and teenage suicide in the country.

Doctors and nurses must work against great odds to meet the needs of the vast province’s 6 000 psychiatric patients.

There are no child and ­adolescent psychiatry services and acute voluntary and involuntary patients are being accommodated in old, substandard infrastructure.

In the meantime, in anticipation of the new hospital, the health department has been ­giving little attention to hiring more staff.

Speaking outside the old West End Hospital, a nurse said that ­morale was low and sick-leave ­absenteeism endemic.

The tender for building the hospital was awarded to Vista Park Developers, which had ­submitted the lowest bid, of R254 million.

Vista Park said government’s constant changes to the plans and scope of work led to an increase of 91% in the cost of the project, which they pegged at R486 million in November.

Vista Park said 68% of the ­revised, nearly doubled budget had been spent.

Only 76% of the work had been completed.

At its peak the project provided work for about 50 sub-contractors, 550 labourers and 300 artisans.

Vista claims that government owes it R44.5 million and it will maintain joint custody of the site until payment has been settled.

The project was shelved in ­November. Damage to it totalling millions of rands is being caused by theft and weather.

The majority of the province’s 40 state patients are awaiting placement in prison, without the benefit of any therapy.

There is no facility to provide 72-hour assessments of emergency cases, causing logjams in court if cases cannot proceed until the accused have been assessed.

A provisional service provided by psychiatrists will grind to a halt next month, since two psychiatrists have pulled out.

While there are no plans to discontinue the project, there has been no progress in appointing new contractors either.

The project was plagued by ­delays before it even started.

Vista Park was started five months late due to delays in the earthworks.

Numerous setbacks followed, from logistical problems to bad weather. The project was meant to be completed in 24 months, by March 2008.

In September last year a delegation, among them Democratic Alliance spokesperson for health Karen Lombard, visited the site. Lombard reported that,
504 days beyond the completion date and with a R20 000 penalty for each late day, Vista Park owed government more than R10 million in penalties.

In November the public works department ended Vista Park’s contract. In Parliament they ­explained this was the result of a “lack of resources by the
main contractor”.

However, Vista Park said the private sector could not be ­expected to fund government ­developments.

Northern Cape spokesperson for public works Ben Sedisho said they were filing papers to have Vista Park evicted from the site and to dismiss Vista’s claim for R44.5 million. A tender for completion must still be drafted.

It is likely that the revised completion date of December this year will also come and go.

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