Johannesburg - The nongovernmental organisation (NGO) where at least eight mentally disabled patients have died recently appears to have packed up and disappeared during the night, along with its patients.
Yesterday, hysterical families of patients said after they arrived at the Precious Angels NGO in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria and found it deserted, they went from hospital to hospital in search of their loved ones.
Umunyana Rugege, an attorney for rights organisation Section27, said “the family of one of the 35 patients let us know on Thursday that the place was totally abandoned when they arrived there to visit their family member”.
“According to neighbours [of the NGO], patients were moved at night. We’re not sure how. We located many of them at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, where they were dropped off.
“We’re not yet sure if all of them [the patients] are there.”
The facility was managed by a woman known only as Ethel Ncube. She has also disappeared and did not respond to SMS enquiries.
According to a family member of one of the patients, who asked to remain anonymous because they feared the patient might be victimised, the family was not informed about the move.
“When we inquired, Ethel just said we must go and see if he is at the hospital.
“The circumstances there were totally unacceptable. Ethel was never there, and there were no trained nurses or knowledgeable people to care for the patients. My brother was very sick and was not getting any treatment. We’re frantic with worry because we don’t know where to take him now. He can’t stay with us.”
Last week, City Press’ sister newspaper, Rapport, reported that Qedani Mahlangu, MEC of health in Gauteng, confirmed that 36 of the 2 000 state patients who had been transferred to NGOs had died.
These patients – who had been cared for at a cost of about R10 000 per month by the Life Esidimeni Hospital for the past few decades – were moved to other facilities as part of a cost-cutting exercise by government.
Rapport reported last week that Section27 wrote a letter of demand in which it requested that an inquest be held into the death of the 36 patients to determine whether any persons should be held criminally liable.
“The Gauteng department of health was warned in very clear terms what the consequences of its actions might be but, nonetheless, it persisted in its actions.
“The department’s behaviour had tragic consequences,” Section27 wrote. “We still haven’t received official confirmation, but it seems as if the police will investigate the matter.”
Steve Mabona, spokesperson of the provincial department of health, yesterday said that, according to their records, “no patient has been abandoned”.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi last week intervened and asked the new health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, to investigate.
Makgoba announced early this week that he had put together a team of five professionals to assist him with the investigation into the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients.
He said the team consisted of four independent psychiatric experts and one who was experienced in public health.
Makgoba said his investigation would draw from the experience of both retired and younger experts.
Makgoba told City Press last week that he was ready to begin investigating the deaths, but was waiting for Mahlangu to hand over all the relevant documents and records.
Makgoba said the office of health standards compliance had also constituted a team of inspectors to conduct inspections at the facilities concerned.
“They will assess the quality, competence and management of facilities,” he said.
City Press could not establish whether Makgoba’s team had managed to inspect the Precious Angels NGO in Atteridgeville before the facility suddenly shut down.
Also this week, the provincial Gauteng government announced that it had received some medical files from Life Esidimeni.
It said that Life Esidimeni was fully cooperating with investigations.
TALK TO US
Do you think the Gauteng health department should be held accountable for the death of the patients?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword LIFE. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50