462 men­tal pa­tients died in just over four years at Life Esidimeni care cen­tres Death toll of 94 could rise by at least 22 pa­tients, who lay uniden­ti­fied in Tsh­wane mor­tu­ar­ies for months Elec­tion cam­paign meant Mahlangu was dis­tracted for three months w

CityPress - - Front Page - ZINHLE MAPUMULO and SUZANNE VEN­TER news@city­press.co.za

Dis­graced Gaut­eng MEC for health Qedani Mahlangu’s se­nior staff knew as far back as July last year that men­tally ill pa­tients were dy­ing in their dozens at the care cen­tres in which they had been dumped. But Mahlangu only knew about the cri­sis a month later – be­cause she had been busy cam­paign­ing for the Au­gust lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions at Wal­ter Sisulu House, the ANC’s pro­vin­cial head­quar­ters, sit­u­ated 400 me­tres from her Sauer Street of­fice.

And when the bod­ies started pil­ing up, Mahlangu and Dr Mak­gabo Manamela, her direc­tor of men­tal health, ac­cused Life Esidimeni Healthcare of “sab­o­tage”.

“When Dr Manamela was told that pa­tients were dy­ing ev­ery day in some of the non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs), she said: ‘Leave it, we know what to do,’” said a se­nior of­fi­cial at­tached to the Gaut­eng Men­tal Health Marathon Project, re­spon­si­ble for trans­fer­ring the pa­tients to the NGOs where they died.

Yesterday, it be­came ap­par­ent that the death toll of 94 pa­tients cal­cu­lated by health om­buds­man Pro­fes­sor Male­ga­puru Mak­goba could rise by at least 22 pa­tients, who lay uniden­ti­fied in Tsh­wane mor­tu­ar­ies for months.

Batala Ke­tole of Ke­tole Fu­neral Un­der­tak­ers in Soshanguve, north of Pre­to­ria, con­firmed yesterday to City Press’ sis­ter news­pa­per, Rap­port, that about 14 uniden­ti­fied bod­ies had been ly­ing in stor­age at his fa­cil­ity for months.

He con­firmed the bod­ies came from the Pre­cious An­gels home in At­teridgeville, where 20 pa­tients out of the 57 who had been trans­ferred there were con­firmed to have died.

The bod­ies were brought to him by an­other un­der­taker, Put u 2 Rest, also in At­teridgeville.

This in­for­ma­tion was given to Mak­goba, who yesterday said: “Yes, here it be­gins. I pre­dicted in my re­port that many more bod­ies would be dis­cov­ered. I know there are also nine more in a mor­tu­ary in Mamelodi.”


When Mahlangu re­turned to the of­fice the Monday after the Au­gust 3 elec­tion, she vis­ited the Pre­cious An­gels NGO, where 11 pa­tients had al­ready died.

In­stead of re­mov­ing the re­main­ing pa­tients, she in­structed Dr Richard Le­bethe, her act­ing direc­tor of foren­sic pathol­ogy, to con­duct post­mortems on the bod­ies.

The rest of the pa­tients were left at the NGO, where nine more sub­se­quently died. Mahlangu de­clined to comment on the al­le­ga­tions. How­ever, a close con­fi­dante con­firmed she only found out about the deaths in Au­gust last year.

“She was on the cam­paign trail from May to July. She only at­tended one meet­ing in July where she was in­formed that all pa­tients had been placed in NGOs,” the con­fi­dante said.

She said Mahlangu “sus­pected sab­o­tage” be­cause Life Esidimeni had re­fused to hand over pa­tients’ med­i­cal records when they were trans­ferred.

“She felt that the decision by Life Esidimeni was in­ten­tional and meant to cause con­fu­sion,” the con­fi­dante said.

Most of the 1 180 pa­tients trans­ferred from Life Esidimeni to the 27 NGOs left with­out the files con­tain­ing their med­i­cal his­tory.

Gaut­eng’s depart­ment of health al­leged dur­ing Mak­goba’s probe that Life Esidimeni re­fused to hand over files, saying it might need the in­for­ma­tion should it ever be sued.

Health Min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi told City Press on Fri­day that he also ini­tially be­lieved the pri­vate healthcare group was de­lib­er­ately sab­o­tag­ing the state. “No doc­tor can trans­fer a pa­tient with­out med­i­cal records,” he said. “Doc­tors are sup­posed to do a proper han­dover to each other, and in this par­tic­u­lar case, these files were vi­tal be­cause sick and vul­ner­a­ble pa­tients were be­ing trans­ferred into the care of other peo­ple.

“So, when I learnt about this I thought Life Esidimeni was an­gry be­cause the depart­ment ter­mi­nated a long-stand­ing con­tract with it, and there­fore, it wanted to sab­o­tage the state.” But Mot­soaledi changed his mind when he read Mak­goba’s find­ings that the trans­fer of pa­tients was chaotic and rushed, and that some se­verely dis­abled pa­tients were herded on to bakkies or strapped down with bed sheets dur­ing tran­sit.

Mak­goba also found that all 27 of the NGOs the pa­tients were trans­ferred to were op­er­at­ing il­le­gally, and were not ready or pre­pared to care for them.

How­ever, Dr Nilesh Pa­tel, healthcare ser­vices op­er­a­tions ex­ec­u­tive at Life Esidimeni, de­nied the pa­tients were dis­charged with­out records, saying staff “en­sured ev­ery pa­tient was trans­ferred with suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion to pro­vide for their con­tin­ued care, treat­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion”.

He said although rules of the Health Pro­fes­sions Coun­cil of SA pre­scribed that the orig­i­nal med­i­cal records “re­side at Life Esidimeni for the du­ra­tion of each pa­tient’s life”, of­fi­cials had “full and un­re­stricted ac­cess” to them.

He added that “trans­fer notes record­ing the lat­est on the pa­tients’ di­ag­no­sis, con­di­tion, med­i­ca­tion his­tory, risk pro­file and any re­cent acute ill­ness and in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sults” were given to of­fi­cials, to­gether with a list of pa­tients’ spe­cial di­etary re­quire­ments, their pre­scrip­tions – “up to 28 days of med­i­ca­tion” – per­sonal items, a set of cloth­ing, and their fam­ily con­tact de­tails.


City Press has learnt that hun­dreds of pa­tients died at Life Esidimeni be­fore the re­main­ing ones were trans­ferred away from its cen­tres in May last year.

Fig­ures of pa­tients who died be­tween Septem­ber 2011 and May 2016, which City Press ob­tained, show that 462 pa­tients died of “nat­u­ral causes” in five care cen­tres run by Life Esidimeni.

Al­most a quar­ter – or 109 pa­tients – died in 2012 alone. In 2011, 130 peo­ple died there.

Mahlangu’s sup­port­ers are us­ing these fig­ures to ex­plain the im­por­tance of ter­mi­nat­ing the Life Esidimeni con­tract and mov­ing the pa­tients else­where.

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