Family suffers amid Esidimeni blame game

2018-02-04 06:00
Aaron Motsoaledi

Aaron Motsoaledi

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As the mystery around the 48 missing Life Esidimeni patients deepens, Daniel Kanza’s family fears the worst.

The 58-year-old man from Rosettenville, Johannesburg, hasn’t been seen or heard from in three months. His family’s lawyer has asked the Gauteng health department to help his children find him.

Kanza, who suffers from severe bipolar disorder, lived at Life Esidimeni’s Waverley Care Centre for three years. In December 2014, he was discharged into his family’s care after the centre management told them they would soon shut down, and their patients would be transferred to nongovernmental organisations (NGOs).

In 2014‚ Gauteng health officials told Premier David Makhura’s budget council that the department wanted to end the Esidimeni contract to save money‚ even after underspending on mental health.

Kanza’s daughter, Sophie, was told that because he was an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo and had lived in the country under asylum status since 1995, the family needed to pay cash or receive a grant from their country for him to continue staying at a state-sponsored NGO.

The family had to take him out of care because they could not raise the money or secure a grant.

“He was okay for a month or two and then he relapsed. We took him to Helen Joseph Hospital where they put him under observation for 72 hours and we were told they couldn’t help him further because they were inundated with patients. His relapses went on for a few months,” Sophie said.

“We went to a social worker at South Rand Hospital and they too said they couldn’t keep him.”

Sophie said it was difficult to give her father his medication. Living with him posed a safety risk as he had violent outbursts, was unpredictable and would walk out of the house in the early hours of the morning leaving their door wide open.

“At Life Esidimeni, the structure helped and they could handle him… He needed long term care because he could not function in society and we didn’t have the capacity to handle him,” she said.

Sophie and her two siblings found him a room to rent where they could visit, but they haven’t heard from him in three months.

Legal Aid advocate Lilla Crouse, who represents families of Life Esidimeni survivors, raised Sophie’s plea to help find her missing father with Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa at the arbitration hearings this week.

This week’s testimony left families with more questions than answers after deep condolences were offered to families affected by the patient transfers from Life Esidimeni facilities to more than 122 community NGOs. There are still no answers as to why the patients had to be relocated and why 144 of them died. The families were shocked to hear that there could be 12 more patients dead, pushing the death toll to 156.

Section 27 advocate Nikki Stein told the hearing, chaired by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, that they submitted affidavits concerning a further 12 bodies. However, lawyers representing the families and the state agreed to wait for the information to be verified before officially adding them to the record. The process is expected to be completed by Thursday.

Ramokgopa disputed the list of 62 “unaccounted for” patients that circulated this week, saying that the list stood at 48 people missing.

She also said it had been difficult validating who the patients were because the list Life Healthcare Group gave the department had errors, duplications of ID numbers and names, and in some instances those numbers were accompanied by no names. In one case, a person is described merely as “female number one”, born in 1976.

Ramokgopa said the entire handover and transfer process was “chaotic” and “mismanaged”.

But Life Healthcare Group spokesperson Tanya Bennetts rejected claims that the list of patient names was bungled and the department had to launch an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act to access it.

“Very few patients did not have ID documents. The few without ID documents were admitted to the facility as an unknown many years previously and had no family contact details or other identification. Life Esidimeni and the department of home affairs actively worked together to obtain ID documents for such patients,” Bennetts said.

“Life Esidimeni at no time denied the Gauteng health department access to patient records. We provided access to all patient records and continued to provide access to records during the Health Ombudsman’s investigation.”

Bennetts said the group was “deeply saddened” about the patients still unaccounted for.

“Life Esidimeni handed the patients over into the care of the health department and thereafter was not informed of any additional movements of patients to other NGOs or facilities,” she said.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said he felt betrayed by officials who spearheaded the project, saying those responsible needed to be criminally charged.

“When I read the ombudsman report about how people were bundled in vans, tied with sheets and chosen like cattle at an auction, I couldn’t imagine that in our new democracy,” he said.

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