Aids centre directors held

2009-08-07 00:00

THE directors of a Pinetown-based hospice for HIV/Aids patients have been arrested following allegations of fraud and maladministration amounting to hundreds of thousands of rands.

Two directors and one man related to one of the directors allegedly siphoned money from the Dream Centre hospice by inflating subsidy claims to the Health Department.

The arrests follow an exposé by noseweek magazine in its April edition, which led to an investigation commissioned by the KZN Health Department.

“We have uncovered fraud at a hospice run by a pastoral organisation, the Dream Centre,” department spokeswoman Sebe Zwane said in a media statement yesterday.

The directors allegedly made inflated subsidy claims to the department, and kept the excess cash.

Zwane said the department had a contract with the Dream Centre from 2004, funded through the Global Fund.

“These … facilities provide step-down care services to patients. The contract for Dream Centre was initially signed through the legal department in 2004, commencing [on April 1, 2004] and has been renewed annually up until March 31. The funding from the Global Fund ended in December 2008 … The [department] did not renew the contract for the 2009/2010 financial year.”

Zwane said that according to the agreement, “the centre was to be reimbursed specifically for operational activities … at a rate of R210 per patient per day”. The facility had a total of 120 beds. The centre admitted patients referred by doctors from public hospitals.

noseweek reported that the department was alerted to the fraud in November, but no action was taken until officials learnt that the magazine was investigating.

Zwane said: “The [Health Department] audit and risk management team conducted an investigation and they identified some maladministration and irregularities in the management of funds by the Dream Centre. A forensic team [from Price­waterhouseCoopers] was appointed by the department to conduct a forensic investigation with the aim of instituting criminal charges …

“It was also discovered that the building was up for auction and the directors were planning to emigrate to Canada.”

noseweek reported that the building was auctioned for R26 million. However, the provincial Housing Department, which had granted the use of the facility to the NGO, quickly stepped in to bar transfer.

On shutdown, patients were sent home and employees retrenched. Neil McDonald, a former public relations manager at the Dream Centre, said it was a traumatic day when the centre was closed down.

“Patients could not cry any more, tears were just streaming down their cheeks. They said they know they are going to die in other hospitals, ‘because there nursing staff just put your tablets down. If you drink them or not, they are not worried, it’s your problem.’ Our nurses crushed the tablets… and made sure patients took them. They bed-bathed the patients and fed them.”

He said international donors will be sceptical to make donations to local charity organisations.

Zwane said the department hopes to recover the funds in order to help deliver health care to 88% of the people of KwaZulu-Natal who depend on public health care.

The police have confirmed that arrests were made, but could not provide details. Superintendent Vincent Mdunge said the Commercial Crime Unit is investigating the case.

By the time of going to press, Mdunge confirmed that two suspects had appeared in court, but could not reveal their names.



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