Families to fight mental health patients' transfer


As the fate of almost 2,000 mental health patients set to be booted from a state-funded hospital remains unclear, patient families have vowed to take their fight to the steps of the Gauteng Department of Health.

Decisions without consultation

Hundreds of friends and family members of mental health patients set to be transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni facilities vowed to march on Gauteng Department of Health Office during a weekend meeting.

The meeting followed allegations by family members that some patients had already been moved from Life Healthcare Esidimeni facilities without family consent or notification. At the meeting, family members recounted frantic phone calls made to organisations like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) in an attempt to locate missing family members.

Muntu Gumbi’s uncle is one of the patients set to be transferred out of Life Healthcare Esidimeni care.

Read: Joburg mental patients left out in the cold

“How can they take such big decisions without talking to us?” asked Gumbi. “It is impossible for the government to say they are closing a facility because of financial problems while they are still going to pay the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are currently accommodating the patients.”

“Whatever intentions they (the department) have of moving our people out of there, it is not going to happen,” she vowed.

No date has been set for the march.

Discharged into community-based care

In October, Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu announced that the department would terminate its contract with Life Healthcare Esidimeni to provide residential care for mental health patients.

According to Democratic Alliance Member of Provincial Legislature and Shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom, Life Healthcare Esidimeni received R324 million in 2014 for its services to 2,378 patients.

Read: The most common mental health disorders in South Africa

At the time of the October announcement, Mahlangu said that the department hoped to reduce the number of psychiatric patients at facilities by discharging those who were well enough to continue community-based care.

While some patients have been moved to NGO care centres such as Soweto’s Takalani Home for the Mentally Handicapped, there are concerns over the conditions in some centres.

Questions about whether the traditionally paediatric-focused Takalani Home For The Mentally Handicapped was equipped to handle adult patients prompted SADAG and others to lodge an unsuccessful court case against the Gauteng Department of Health earlier this year.

John Stephens is a senior researcher with the public interest law organisation Section27, which represented the mental health organisations in court.

'Relocation going well'

“We represented SADAG, the South African Society of Psychiatrists and SA Federation in an attempt to temporarily prevent the department from sending Life Esidimeni residents to Takalani,” Stephens said.

Read: Managing bipolar disorder without medication

“Takalani Home had not, according to our information, been vetted and was meant for children, whereas the department was sending adults to it.”

The Johannesburg High Court dismissed the application in March.

The Gauteng Department of Health denies allegations that it poorly communicated with families prior to patient relocations.

“The relocation of patients is going well,” said Gauteng Department of Health Spokesperson Steve Mabona. “We have already moved about 460 patients to different facilities and NGOs.”

“We have interacted with their families accordingly,” said Mabona, who maintained patients were happy with new accommodation. The department has urged families of Life Healthcare Esidimeni patients who may have questions regarding the closure or patient whereabouts to call the department on 011 355 3375. – Health-e News. 

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