- A woman claims her 75-year-old mother contracted Covid-19 from staff at a private hospital in KZN.
- She also alleges that nurses assaulted her mother during a previous hospital stay.
- The hospital says it will continue to investigate the complaint and is not taking the matter lightly.
A KwaZulu-Natal family is reeling after their 75-year-old matriarch went into hospital for a kidney-related issue, only to contract Covid-19, allegedly after admission, and died.
Leela Moothelal, 75, described as a bubbly, infectious, vital cog in her family in Pietermaritzburg, was admitted to Netcare St Anne's Hospital for kidney stones and tested negative for Covid-19 after being tested at the facility on 28 June.
Her daughter, Patricia Moothelal, spoke to News24 on Tuesday, a day before her mother's funeral alleging that her mom contracted the virus from positive staff. She also alleged that nursing staff even assaulted her mother during a previous visit in late May.
The hospital has said it takes such claims very seriously and will investigate the allegation.
"She fell badly ill on 28 June and we admitted her to hospital with lots of pain. She had previously been admitted end of May beginning of June and found out it was kidney stones that caused her infection and made so her unwell," Patricia said.
Patricia said during her May visit to hospital, her mother was harassed by two nurses.
"When I found out about this, I actually cried. I could not believe she had to suffer in that way."
Her mother had asked for a hand sanitiser and was apparently told to go get it herself.
"She suffered so badly. She didn't tell us until she was home at the beginning of July that she was assaulted by nurses. Another patient had to scream and asked them to stop. The next day the nurse apologised."
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She said they raised the issue with the hospital, who "promised to come back to us but did not".
"You must also know that they are all wearing PPE and no name tags, so it was hard to tell who it was. She could describe the one, but she did not know the names."
Three weeks later, she had to admit her mother to the very same hospital.
"She fell ill again. There were very little spaces in other hospitals and we had to take her back."
She said that, following a Covid-19 swab on her mother's admittance to hospital, results came back negative two days later.
"On 30 June, confirmed she was Covid-19 negative. The urologist then wanted to take her to theatre to deal with the kidney stones. She was a bit too weak at first. But, thereafter, she got a bit stronger and a bit better and they planned to take her to theatre on 7 July. On 6 July, they said she would be discharged in 48 hours."
Patricia said the day of her mother's operation, they were told that the two nurses treating her were Covid-19 positive.
"They informed us she would have to stay on after the operation to swab her again. At this point, we were extremely devastated. I live in Durban and I have not come to Pietermaritzburg, I did not see her on Mother's Day [because of the pandemic]. My sister is a nurse who lives nearby to my mum, but she stood on the road and talked to my mother. To hear she could be positive in a hospital was crushing."
She added: "My mother lives with my nieces who are so careful. She had been watching the news and following the developments on the virus since it was in just Wuhan. She updated us on everything."
She said that after President Cyril Ramaphosa in April announced that the elderly were vulnerable, her mother became even more cautious.
"Her mantra was she would only see us all in September. We used to video chat only. To hear she was infected was a shock because we were so careful."
Patricia said later in the day she was told her mother was getting pneumonia.
"We're hearing all this, but just a day earlier we were told she was perfectly alright to come home."
She said that, by Thursday, 9 July, her mother was critically ill and on 100% oxygen.
"She was really bad. They did the test on Thursday; by Friday she was ill and on Saturday morning the doctor called to say she was really bad and could die at anytime. This devastated us, especially the children in our family that love her. They are all writing exams and hear this news."
Patricia said that by Saturday, 11 July, they received results that her mother was Covid-19 positive.
"It took away your sadness and numbed you. Covid-19 changes everything. We were told that when you die of Covid-19, they take your body away in three bags into a coffin, fill it with saw dust, you meet them at the crematorium, and you get the ashes."
She added: "We cried, it was so heartbreaking. We did not sleep from Thursday night. We were only in contact with the nurses and some give you a proper response and others just don't care."
She said on Saturday two family members visited her mother briefly.
"My niece was traumatised when she saw her. She [Leela] was gasping and couldn't breathe and was holding her chest. All she wanted was to come home. She was tired of being there."
She said her mother survived Sunday, 12 July, but her doctor informed their family that she was "gravely ill".
On Monday, her mother died.
No one at home has Covid-19
Patricia said no one in her family had Covid-19.
"My mother lives in a family of four, no one is ill or has any symptoms and she was in hospital for 16 days when she passed away."
She said that, after the operation, her mother was elated.
"She was just so excited that she had come through the operation successfully. She just wanted to feel better and see her family. I could not tell her she couldn't come home because she had the Covid-19 test coming."
She added: "When she was admitted, she was confined to her bed, she could not move. She only interacted with the nurses and doctors. In our family no one had the virus."
She said the family was also gutted because a Covid-19 funeral meant limited numbers.
"It is so difficult because she was so loved by so many people all around her community and the country. At her cremation, we can only have 10 people, yet we are such a large family. It's a sealed coffin so we could not even see her face."
She said the family would still follow regulations.
"Emotionally, it is a rollercoaster. There is no closure for us. We last saw her on 28 June. When I last spoke to her on the phone on 6 July, she was so adamant she wanted to come home. She said she wanted to come home and get better."
Patricia said she felt let down by the hospital.
"We are gutted, hurt and angry. We are robbed of so much. We are robbed of giving her a dignified send off. If you see some of the tributes being sent, people are heartbroken they cannot see her off."
She added: "We could not even enter the hospital, yet the staff could not take the necessary precautions. They've robbed us of so much."
She said her mother would be sorely missed.
"She was very talented. She could play the guitar, she was still doing crossword puzzle books, she helped the children with their Shakespeare. She was fluent in Afrikaans, Zulu, Hindi and English. She was a singer and just a fabulous, lovely person who was full of life."
Responding, Netcare St Anne's Hospital general manager Louis Joubert confirmed Moothelal was tested for Covid-19 upon admission.
"The test results came back as negative, but due to clinical indicators suggesting a diagnosis of Covid-19, the test was repeated two days later and still came back negative. The patient was thereafter retested on 9 July, and on that occasion her test came back as positive."
He said it was possible that a false negative had come back in earlier tests.
"It has been shown that the type of swab, the quality of the swab and how soon after the onset of the infection the test was done, among other factors, can result in a false negative test result. In instances where a patient is symptomatic, we would therefore retest the patient at intervals."
He said Moothelal was cared for in isolation "with those involved in her care wearing full personal protective equipment".
"This was done in accordance with Netcare's protocols regarding Covid-19 patients. These strict precautionary measures have been implemented to prevent the possible spread of infection to other patients or healthcare workers in our hospitals."
The alleged assault?
Joubert said the hospital received complaints "regarding some of the hospital services from the family of the deceased patient".
"Each individual complaint received was investigated and addressed, and feedback was provided to the family member who lodged the complaint by the respective members of the hospital management team."
He said he believed all complaints were "addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of the family".
"We have not received any notification or complaint regarding the alleged assault prior to your enquiry, and view such an allegation in a most serious light. We have contacted the family for further information, but we were unable to confirm the allegations with the family member with whom we spoke."
He added: "This [the alleged assault] is against everything we stand for as a healthcare facility and we will continue to investigate the allegation which, if found to be accurate, will be addressed and the necessary corrective action will be taken."