Johannesburg – The owner of Precious Angels, Ethel Ncube, says despite her “level best” to look after the Life Esidimeni patients who were transferred to her centre, 23 of them died.Ncube was testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing on Tuesday, insisting reports by the health ombudsman that patients died because of a lack of experienced staff, a lack of food and water, and the cold were incorrect.''I totally object [that patients died of hunger and cold],'' she said when questioned about the health ombudsman’s report.Well looked afterNcube said she ''suffered'' as well as she exhausted her savings, opted not to pay rent and saw her care repossessed as she tried to ensure that the 58 patients she took into her homes were fed and well looked after.She testified that she failed to complete an accounting degree and had a certificate in early child development, yet she was passionate about caring for mentally ill patients because her own daughter suffered from a condition. ''We did our level best,'' she said.Ncube testified that the Gauteng health department didn’t pay her for three months and placed patients into her care before she was properly licensed.''I was hurting as well… it wasn’t anticipated… but I won’t say we were irresponsible [to take in more patients],'' she said in response to a question about her lack of experience, lack of staff and lack of funds.Adult mental patientsLast week, the alternative dispute resolution hearing into the deaths of the Life Esidimeni patients heard the number of patients who had died rose from the initial 118 to 141 at the end of September, with another 59 patients still unaccounted for.The health ombudsman’s report said Ncube ''had plenty of passion for the work, but her lack of experience and understanding of mental illness was evident in her being totally out of her depth in managing adult mental patients".''I still object to what he said, but I think [the patients died] through all the frustration of being sent from one pillar to post,'' she said.Passed awayThe health ombudsman’s report referred to patients being sent to various facilities, including one of Section27’s clients, Virginia Machpelah, who was moved from Life Esidimeni to Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre to Anchor to Precious Angels where she eventually died on August 15 last year.Machpelah’s family was not immediately informed of her death, while the family of Nathaniel ‘Solly’ Masego was informed a month after he passed away.Given an opportunity to apologise to family members, Ncube said: ''It is something that haunts me as a person".The hearings continue on Wednesday.