Anguish over delay of report
Circumstances surrounding the deaths of mentally ill patients were probed
FOR THE families of the patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni Psychiatric Hospital in Randfontein in June last year after the hospital’s contract with the Gauteng Department of Health was cancelled, waiting for a few more weeks for the release of the preliminary report into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of mentally ill patients is a difficult ask.
Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba announced earlier this week that the release of the report would be delayed.
Family members of patients Nomvula Nonjabe and Christine Nxumalo expressed their frustration at the delay of the results. Nonjabe’s sister Khayakazi was transferred to Goitsemodimo, an NGO in Fochville, west of Joburg, from Esidimeni.
“We are disappointed as a family and feel like the MEC isn’t taking this matter seriously, especially because she asked for an extension on the day she was supposed to deliver feedback,” Nonjabe said.
She added that while her family hope the report will not be tampered with when it is finally released, they also hope it will give them the answers they need.
“We hope to get answers on what led to the deaths of the patients and the plan to prevent further deaths. We also hope they will do the right thing and communicate with families accordingly,” she said.
Nxumalo, on the other hand, said it was important that the preliminary report be released before the end of this month, because they had been waiting long enough. Nxumalo’s sister, Virginia Machpelah, 50, had Alzheimer’s disease.
“It cannot go beyond January, because it means that we would have waited five months now. This report is not just for those who have died, but it will also provide clarity for the families of people who are alive and in NGOs at the moment. The silence on this issue has been deafening,” Nxumalo said.
She added that the release of the report would provide closure for them as a family, regarding her sister’s death.
“We can’t move on. We didn’t even see where she died. All we want is for our family members to rest in peace, and without answers this can’t happen,” she said.
Nxumalo said she believed that nothing had been fair about the process of the investigation, and that the MEC had been selfish to delay the release. They would wait for the report’s release to hear what it said.
According to a statement released by the office of the ombudsman, Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu had requested additional time to study the contents of the report, and respond as required by law.
The interim report was due to be released yesterday, but Mahlangu will now have until the close of business on January 24 to provide her comments.
The cancellation of the contract was controversial, with details of how patients believed to have required specialised medical treatment were transferred to non-governmental organisations being unclear.
Shortly afterwards, reports emerged that 37 patients had died after the transfers to NGOs. The circumstances surrounding the deaths of the patients are unclear, hence the ombudsman’s decision to investigate.
During the process of the transfers, one of the support systems of the families was the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).
According to its operations director, Cassey Chambers, this was after the families requested that the organisation help them to manage the process.
“In October 2015, Sadag received calls from family members for info about the contract termination, and some needed info about the relocation of their loved ones.
“Throughout this time, we have been actively involved in assisting them with tracking down their loved ones, including those who lost them and those who are at the NGOs. Since we first heard the announcement from the MEC, we are still getting requests from family members who need help,” Chambers said.
She further explained that the organisation had been actively involved in the investigation of the report. The organisation, along with other civil- society groups, was called to be interviewed in the report.
Chambers said, however, that while family representatives and civil-society groups were pleased that the investigation took place, the anxiety after the long process was still there.
“It has been a long process, so we are all anxiously waiting for the results and the findings. The family members, especially those who have lost their loved ones, will find closure, and many of their unanswered questions will finally be answered.
“We hope that the livelihood or the wellbeing of the current patients who are still in the NGOs will be well looked after and catered for. Therefore, we remain optimistic and hope the results will give the family members some answers and help us to move forward to ensure the patients are well taken care of,” Chambers said.
The office of the ombudsman has said the date of the report’s release would be communicated at a later stage. In the meantime, the wait for the report by angry and frustrated families, continues.
We feel the MEC is not taking the matter seriously
WORRIED: Concerned citizens and relatives of patients with mental illness protest against their relocation from the Life Esidimeni Hospital in Randfontein, inset, to unknown premises in June last year.