McCord staff and patients in last fight to block closure

2013-09-20 00:00

PRAYERS and protests were yesterday the beacons of hope patients and staff at McCord Hospital in Overport clung to as news filtered through that the hospital would close its doors today.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) secretary Zola Sapheta yesterday said the union received a letter from the hospital’s lawyers indicating that by 8 am today the hospital would be closing its doors.

Nurses, doctors and administration staff at the iconic Durban facility spent their lunch hour yesterday expressing dissatisfaction over the failure of the board to allow government to buy the hospital.

Hundreds of staff will find themselves unemployed today when the hospital closes.

After a prayer meeting in the morning, the workers toyi-toyied and sung struggle songs outside the hospital, waving placards accusing the hospital board, led by its chairperson Professor Paulus Zulu, for being oppressors. Patients from the hospital wards and those who came to collect their medications joined in. The state-aided hospital has been a private facility, but provided healthcare to poorer communites under a memorandum of understanding signed with the Health Department.

The cash-strapped facility has been struggling to stay afloat for the past few months, during which time the hospital board and the department had a series of meetings to prepare for the total take­over, but negotiations failed.

Government has made available a R47 million rescue deal to allow the hospital to operate. The buy-out negotiations fell through because of a dispute about some of the buildings the hospital wants to hold onto.

“The facility is set to close its doors but there are no indications about patients,” workers said.

The hospital referred inquiries to the union.

A senior hospital employee who has been part of the negotiations said while the board was negotiating with government, they also had side talks with a group of private hospitals interested in buying the hospital.

Sapheta said when talks about the hospital surfaced in February, they appealed for the rumours to stop while the union engaged the Health Department. “And negotiation started then, but clearly now they refuse a total takeover by government because they want to make more money,” he said.

The union has now served the hospital with a letter of demand to stop the closure, that they have to respond to by 10 am today. “It was acknowledged by their lawyers. On Monday we will be going to the Labour Court to force them to take the government offer.”

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said the offer for the province to take over the hospital was still on the table. He said the department could do no more if the board opted to close the hospital.

“It’s a private hospital, but we had a working relationship with them. However, the decision lies with the board.”

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