Johannesburg - The mother of one of the 36 patients who died after being transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to a rehabilitation centre, had planned to retire and take care of him herself.
Miriam Monyane said she received a call in the middle of the night from someone at a rehabilitation hospital in Cullinan who told her that her son’s health was deteriorating. He had cerebral palsy.
“I went there the same night, around 19:20, to go and fetch him. When I arrived, the security would not let me go in to go see him. They kept me in a waiting area.”
After some time, the same guard re-emerged from the dark, pushing a hospital bed. Her son Thabo was in it.
“That place is not a prison, he is there to get help, so why are they stopping me from going in to see my child, to take him in my arms and see the place he’s been sleeping?”
Struggling to get to her son to the car in the dark with little to no help, Monyane said when she eventually arrived home she bathed him and attempted to feed him because he looked weak.
“As a mother, you naturally want to take care of your child, but I could already see that he was weak.”
She took him to a doctor the next day and he recommended that she take him to the Tshwane District Hospital for further treatment.
Thabo, 32, died the following day, on August 12.
“They said he had an electrolyte imbalance. He needed minerals, water and he wasn’t eating the right food,” she said with anguish in her voice.
Moved without her knowledge
When the department of health decided to cancel its contract with Life Healthcare Esidimeni, it identified 122 NGOs to relocate about 2 000 patients to.
Thabo was moved to an NGO which cared for the elderly and the disabled.
Monyane said she only realised after receiving a call from the hospital on August 10 that her son had been moved again, without her knowledge. He had allegedly spent three weeks at the hospital in Cullinan.
“This is extremely painful for me. My son could have spent all that time with me. I could have given him all that food that he needed, and the minerals he needed.
"If I had known then I would have resigned at work and taken whatever money I got. I’m already 60. I would have fetched my child and taken care of him.”
Christine Nxumalo, like Monyane, received a call from a stranger, bearing bad news.
On August 25, a woman from an NGO told her that her sister Virginia, 50, had died a week earlier.
“I received a call from a lady and she was explaining that my sister was moved from Cullinan to her for a specialised treatment, and my sister had been with her for six weeks.
“I didn’t know who I was talking to. So it was the first time I heard about any of that.
“She proceeded to say she couldn’t reach me, and told me that my sister had passed on the 17th.”
She said the department had not acted in good faith, from the moment it announced the cancellation of the contract with Life Esidimeni until the patients were moved.
She said only one public meeting was arranged with families, and that not every family had been properly notified of the reason for the meeting. After hearing the news, family members pleaded with the department to reconsider their decision, Nxumalo said.
Everyone told their story
“Everyone who was anyone stood up and started telling their story. Everybody was testifying that this was the best place ever for our families. We know our families are safe, we can see the improvement even if it's slight, but it's improvement.
“Everybody stood up and told their story, but it was quite clear that this was not ‘we were thinking of closing the hospital’, this was ‘we’re letting you guys know that we’re closing the hospital’.”
She said she didn’t believe the cost-cutting reason the department gave for cancelling the contract with Life Esidimeni.
“This was not something that was done in good faith. It was clear that the department had decided, not really looking at the ramifications of actually taking that decision. And the worst part is they then rushed it.”
She said the families knew that the way the department handled the matter would cause problems.
“We knew it was going to be a disaster, but I don’t think anyone anticipated deaths, and not so many.”
Earlier this week, Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu revealed during an oral reply to questions in the legislature that 36 psychiatric patients who had been transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni died while in the care of the NGOs.
The deaths were being investigated.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said he had asked the health ombudsman to investigate the deaths, after having a lengthy consultation with Mahlangu. She asked the national department to “deal with the matter effectively”.