Town Hill: Man killed himself ‘because staff didn’t pay attention’

2009-04-05 00:00

The death of a former Witness journalist at Town Hill Hospital has been blamed on the negligence of staff.

SAPS spokeswoman Inspector Joey Jeevan said Johan Beukes (58) of Howick, was found hanged in a bathroom at the hospital on March 6. He worked at The Witness from 1989 to 1999, first as the business editor, and then as a senior reporter. Jeevan said police are investigating the circumstances around Beukes’s death, but no foul play is suspected at this stage.

A reliable source at Town Hill Hospital alleges that Beukes’s death occurred because of inadequate care and negligence by staff.

It is alleged that during the approximately six weeks that he was in the hospital, he was not seen by a psychologist. It is also alleged that he was moved out of a ward where he could be monitored before it was safe to do so.

Beukes was admitted on January 22 to Hillside B ward because he was severely depressed and seriously suicidal. The Hillside wards are for male patients who are acutely mentally ill and are reportedly equipped with seclusion rooms and closed circuit television cameras to allow staff to monitor patients, especially those who are suicidal.

On February 9 Beukes was reportedly transferred to Uitsig E and F wards, which are for male patients who are to be discharged, so they should no longer be seriously ill. According to the source, Beukes was still severely depressed and anxious and “not in a state to be in that ward”.

He was being treated with anti-depressant medication and sleeping pills.

The source alleges that staff at the hospital have covered up details of Beukes’s death because it shows up their negligence. Ward staff and patients allegedly also tell conflicting stories about the incident. For example, a nurse claims to have found his body, while patients say they found it.

Staff reportedly claim that at the time of Beukes’s death, they, including the operations manager of the ward, were doing group work with patients or dishing up lunch for patients.

However, the source says, “there was no group at that time and serving lunch for about 20 people doesn’t require many staff. The patients should not be left unattended. Some staff should have been with them.”

It is also alleged that the operations manager of the ward spends little time there and is neglecting her responsibilities because she is studying. A spokesman for the Health Department, Sebe Zwane, said the department’s records do not reflect permission granted for studying, but the manager has indicated that she is studying towards a Social Sciences qualification.

Zwane said Town Hill Hospital has appointed an investigating officer, who is doing an in-depth investigation into Beukes’s death. He is waiting for the postmortem results from the police in order to compile a report. “At this stage, no staff member has been held responsible and no disciplinary measures have been taken against anybody at the hospital,” Zwane said.

Asked why Beukes was transferred out of an acute ward into a pre-discharge ward while still seriously ill, Zwane said: “We can confirm that our records indicate that the patient was settling well in the ward and was co-operative with ward routines.”

Responding to allegations that Beukes was never seen by a psychologist, the spokesman said: “We will reserve the right to protect the confidentiality of the patient’s medical records.”

Beukes leaves a brother, Louis, who lives in Cape Town.

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