Bleak situation for families hit by Esidimeni tragedy
NO ACTION has been taken against 11 health officials implicated in the Life Esidimeni crisis. Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who made the decision that led to 141 deaths, remains elusive, and the “bankrupt” Gauteng Health Department is probably unable to fund a compensation ruling.
This has become apparent as the arbitration hearings get under way into what transpired when the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) ordered that about 1 400 mentally ill patients be moved from Life Esidimeni private psychiatric facilities either to irregularly registered NGOs or sent home to their families.
The process was badly managed, families of the patients were not informed and 141 patients ended up dying within a few months – many of them starving or freezing to death.
A Health Ombudsman investigation found several people to have acted improperly and recommended action be taken against them.
Now arbitration hearings chaired by retired Judge Dikgang Moseneke are in session, aimed at gaining closure for the families of the deceased, possibly with the GDoH being ordered to compensate those who were harmed.
Four weeks into the hearings and even more mental health officials are now under investigation, compounding the GDoH’s financial crisis.
The Health Department has revealed that more officials, on top of those mentioned in the Health Ombudsman’s report, could face disciplinary action for their roles once investigations have been concluded.
“These are the things that we need to look at; we might find that there are more people who were involved but not cited in the report,” DDG for Health in Gauteng Thabo Masebe told Health-e News.
Families had cause to celebrate on Thursday when it was reported that Dr Makgobo Manamela’s appeal against her alleged part in the report’s damning findings had been dismissed by retired Judge Bernard Ngoepe.
One hundred-and-forty-one people lost their lives during or after they were moved from Life Esidimeni psychiatric facilities into a number of unlicensed non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
But little action has been taken against the 11 Health Department officials fingered in the report.
Besides suspended chairperson of the Gauteng Mental Health Review Board, Dumi Masondo, they have all failed to come forward to the arbitration hearing at which families testified about the frighteningly horrific conditions they witnessed when trying to locate loved ones.
While Manamela’s appeal has been dismissed, the other top two implicated officials are either still appealing the findings, as in the case of Dr Barney Selebano, or are suspected to be in hiding, as in the case of the former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.
She has already come under fire for lying about being a student at the London School of Economics, even though her lawyers have committed that she will be available to testify at the arbitration hearings next January.
But retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, leading the arbitration proceedings, stated firmly that he wanted the process to be concluded this year.
Furthermore, a week after the Mail & Guardian revealed no action whatsoever has been taken against the other nine officials identified in the report, the department’s Masebe told Health-e that all still hold their positions today.
But, he said, once the internal disciplinary processes are concluded “we are going to deal with all these matters (and) appropriate action will be taken against all the officials who are responsible for specific actions that lead to this tragedy”.
Officials are resisting being held accountable and there is little proof that families can rely on the Gauteng Health Department to investigate them efficiently, but that still may be easier than getting the department to pay out a likely hefty compensation sum to affected families.
Although unclear at this stage, most agree that once the arbitration process has concluded, “and given that there is no question of liability on the part of the GDoH”, Moseneke will rule on compensation, said Mark Heywood from Section27.
He said he “wouldn’t want to guess” but the amount “would no doubt be very costly” and would likely be unaffordable to the “cashstrapped” GDoH.
Last week The Star reported that Nurse Mate Agency that provides nursing services to public and private hospitals withdrew all their nurses from Rahima Moosa Hospital as it was owed R5 million by the department.
The province also is responsible for the largest debt on the book of the National Health Laboratory Service and, said Heywood, the department is “a nest of corruption and mismanagement in need of national attention”. – Health-e News.
Family member Nomsa Mofokeng dabs her tears during the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Parktown, Johannesburg.