Too many unanswered questions about Esidimeni 37

2016-10-28 11:57
Abraham Nqulungu is still looking for his sister Mercy who escaped from an NGO in Potchefstroom shortly after being moved there from Life Esidimeni Healthcare centre earlier this year (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Abraham Nqulungu is still looking for his sister Mercy who escaped from an NGO in Potchefstroom shortly after being moved there from Life Esidimeni Healthcare centre earlier this year (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg - Families are pained by the fact that they still do not know why their relatives died after they were moved out of the Life Esidimeni Healthcare centre.

One such man is Abraham Nqulungu, who does not know whether his sister is alive or not.

His sister Mercy was transferred to an NGO in Potchefstroom after spending about eight months in Life Esidimeni, where she was being treated for bipolar disorder.

He said the Gauteng Health Department did not tell him his sister was moved. He had been looking forward to bringing her home as she had responded well to treatment and was just one week shy of being discharged.

The department moved the patients from the Esidimeni centres and to 122 non-governmental organisations earlier this year in a bid to cut costs. The centre had looked after about 2 000 patients.

“We were almost booking her out, but the nurse at Esidimeni told us to give the doctors a chance to check her for the last time. But we could see she was okay. We just needed the doctors to approve that we could take her home.

"When we were planning to go and visit her, we saw her walking into our home tired and dirty. She had lost weight. She had walked three hours from Potchefstroom to us. When we asked her what is happening, and who had booked her out, she said 'I escaped. I ran away through the broken fence'."

According to Mercy, she and other patients were being fed fruit, such as oranges and apples, for supper and their medication had run out.

"How can you give a person who is on medication an apple or orange, when you’ve been given a tender of billions? You can’t even buy them porridge or proper food? They couldn’t even put petrol in the car to go collect medication for the patients," Nqulungu said.

His sister went missing after August 6, about two weeks after she was admitted to an NGO. After spending two days at their home in Turffontein, Mercy again escaped. She has not been seen since.

Nqulungu opened a missing person's case, but said he had received little to no help from police because the person tasked with investigating the matter had limited resources, and no car.

'Not treating him well'

READ: Families demand answers for deaths of 37 psych patients

Nqulungu has scraped together some money and printed hundreds of posters with Mercy’s photo and his cellphone number.

He said the department had been negligent in its handling of the matter.

"They transferred our people before making sure that there are proper facilities in the NGOs. There were no follow-ups to go check if people are treated okay, until 37 people died. This shows that the person who is there is not fit for the job."

Nqulungu described his 38-year-old sister as an intelligent woman who loved education. She had a number of diplomas and had dreams of acquiring a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting, he said. She also liked church a lot. She had no children and he was her only sibling.

"Instead of her getting this bipolar thing, we were hoping she would work and get her own family."

He wanted Mercy to know that wherever she was, her family still loved her and they were looking forward to seeing her again.

"If she feels like she is still in her mind a little bit, she can go to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital and ask them to call me."

He said that if she had died, he would make sure a post-mortem was carried out so they could know why.

A number of families fought back tears on Thursday afternoon after holding a prayer vigil and demonstration outside the department’s offices in central Johannesburg.

Two women said they were pained by how their children had been treated.

One, who did not want to be named, said her grandson had been moved out of Life Esidimeni to a new NGO without her knowledge. She spent over a month finding him, and when she did, she could see that he had lost a considerable amount of weight and complained of not getting enough food.

She said, during her struggle to locate him, both his mother and had brother died.

"I had to bury his mother and brother. My mind was all over the place. I don’t even know what to do, if I’m coming or going, who is going to take care of this boy because I myself am too old now. I can’t do it on my own, but these people are not treating him well either," she said, fighting back tears.

'My heart is pained'

Another mother said she had lost her son, the last of her children, shortly after they were moved out Life Esidimeni. This was despite the fact that she had asked the department for help when she noticed his health was deteriorating.

She was interviewed on eNCA’s Checkpoint.

"My heart is pained because I asked you to help me, you guys saw me on the TV and found me and promised to help me with my son, but you did not," she told the department’s head, Dr Barney Selebano.

He said the department would ensure the relatives met MEC Qedani Mahlangu to address their grievances and demands.

They wanted Mahlangu to accept responsibility for the deaths, for the department to co-operate with the police and health ombudsman’s investigations, for the department to furnish the families with details of all the patients who had died the details of the locations of all the other patients who were still alive, and explain how patients were assigned to NGOs.

Department spokesperson Steve Mabona said they would give families more details about the deaths after the health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, had completed his investigation.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi appointed Makgoba to the task in September.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura said on September 16 that every year between May and August a large number of mentally ill patients died at government facilities, and that this had been the case for the past five years.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  health

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