Bleak sit­u­a­tion for fam­i­lies hit by Esidi­meni tragedy

Saturday Star - - NEWS - THABO MOLELEKWA AND AMY GREEN

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.

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