Eku­phu­mu­leni Ge­ri­atric Nurs­ing Home pioneers

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/opinion - Yoliswa Dube Fea­tures Re­porter

THE need to start a fa­cil­ity such as Eku­phu­mu­leni Ge­ri­atric Nurs­ing Home in Mzi­likazi sub­urb, Bu­l­awayo, arose dur­ing the coun­try’s lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. Peo­ple flooded city hos­pi­tals for med­i­cal at­ten­tion but the hos­pi­tals were con­tin­u­ally over­whelmed and the el­derly suf­fered the most from this lack of re­sources and ca­pac­ity be­cause their ail­ments were con­sid­ered as chronic and were of­ten dis­charged be­fore they had fully re­cov­ered.

They had to make way for younger pa­tients to be ad­mit­ted.

This grow­ing trend broke the heart of re­tired nurse, Mrs Polyanna Mahlangu (89), the founder of the nurs­ing home.

She felt bur­dened in her spirit to at­tend to the el­derly who were con­stantly dis­charged from hospi­tal be­fore they had fully re­cov­ered.

They were dis­charged on stretch­ers and wheel­chairs into town­ships whose ac­com­mo­da­tion was in­ad­e­quate and into fam­i­lies who had no idea how to take care of their needs.

Some were found dead in their homes, with food and wa­ter next to them.

The home es­tab­lished over 30 years ago, apart from tak­ing care of the in­mates at the in­sti­tu­tion, also takes care of the needs of ill el­derly peo­ple around the city.

It trains ge­ri­atric care aides and the com­mu­nity on how to care for the af­fected peo­ple, be­sides pro­vid­ing home based and day care for the el­derly in need of such ser­vices.

Eku­phu­mu­leni also con­trib­utes to­wards the for­mu­la­tion of pol­icy per­tain­ing to the care of the el­derly in Zim­babwe.

It is not an old peo­ple’s home but a con­va­les­cent old peo­ple’s nurs­ing home.

Al­though it re­lies heav­ily upon as­sis­tance from well­wish­ers, Eku­phu­mu­leni seeks to con­trib­ute to­wards meet­ing its ex­penses through var­i­ous in­come gen­er­at­ing ini­tia­tives.

Pa­tients’ next of kin are how­ever re­quired to pay a to­ken fee of $100 per month.

It is sad to note though, that most fam­i­lies are un­able to raise this amount, thereby forc­ing the Home to seek al­ter­na­tive fund­ing since it feels obliged to en­sure that no one in need of as­sis­tance is thrown onto the streets.

“I said to my col­leagues in the 70s, the el­derly peo­ple are be­ing dis­charged be­fore it’s time and they are go­ing to homes where they are not be­ing ad­e­quately taken care of.

‘‘Their fam­i­lies can­not take care of them – in fact, they wouldn’t know how to take care of them well,” said Mrs Mahlangu dur­ing an in­ter­view at her Lu­veve home.

She said deal­ing with el­derly pa­tients comes with unique chal­lenges as many may not even be able to get up and an­swer to the call of na­ture.

“I said to my col­leagues, why not start this thing with no re­mu­ner­a­tion, how dif­fi­cult could it be? But my friends all thought I was crazy and said we couldn’t build a nurs­ing home”.

But Mrs Mahlangu took their re­marks lightly and still held onto the be­lief that the con­struc­tion of a nurs­ing home for the el­derly in the com­mu­nity could be achieved.

“I re­mem­ber my church min­is­ter even of­fered to help get donors to fund the place. One day, Rev­erend E.M Musa came to visit me here. I told him doc­tors were dis­charg­ing the el­derly from hospi­tal be­fore time; they have younger peo­ple who need these beds be­ing oc­cu­pied by the el­derly. They need to be taken care of from home. I said let’s take care of them, un­til they can at least go to the loo by them­selves,” she said.

Rev Musa thought it was a good idea but felt it was just a drop in the ocean.

“He sug­gested that we get other peo­ple and form a steer­ing com­mit­tee. He said let’s get peo­ple who will know what to do, peo­ple with the know-how.

‘‘I al­ready knew some nurs­ing sis­ters who could help. I thought of Mrs R. May­obe, Mrs Tendai Khu­malo, and Mr M.N Ndu­biwa. We rang him to tell him of the idea,” said Mrs Mahlangu.

When an idea comes, it doesn’t come from you but from God, she said.

“Into the steer­ing com­mit­tee we also in­cluded Mr Ni­cholas Ma­bodoko and Mr L. Nkala. Un­for­tu­nately I can’t re­mem­ber the first names of some of these peo­ple,” said Mrs Mahlangu, who turns 90 in Novem­ber.

On De­cem­ber 15, 1973, they all met for the very first time.

“My heart has never pumped so fast! I thought things were about to start mov­ing, the idea was com­ing to life.”

The home would take care of the el­derly un­til they had fully re­cov­ered be­fore dis­charg­ing them be­cause they did not want to dis­turb their ex­tended fam­ily sys­tem.

“We’d take care of them for three months and af­ter that, take them back home. But dur­ing our first meet­ing as the steer­ing com­mit­tee, the idea suf­fered a set­back. Mr Ndu­biwa wanted to see the home’s pa­per­work, which I didn’t have.

‘‘He said he needed to know how I had ar­rived to the con­clu­sion that the el­derly were be­ing dis­charged from hospi­tal be­fore they had fully re­cov­ered,” she said.

Mrs Mahlangu was given five weeks to con­duct a sur­vey and come up with a fea­si­bil­ity re­port.

“My head went crazy! My heart sank! I didn’t even know how to con­duct a sur­vey. But you know what, when some­thing is God-sent, things will just hap­pen.”

As she was walk­ing through Mpilo Cen­tral Hospi­tal cor­ri­dors, she bumped into a doc­tor who no­ticed she was trou­bled.

“I told him about the sur­vey I needed to do and Dr Ralph­man said I should not worry be­cause he was go­ing to do it for me. I was so re­lieved! It was God who had taken the bur­den off my shoul­ders.

‘‘Af­ter five weeks, he was done and the sur­vey re­vealed that there were 49 such el­derly peo­ple in his ward. What of other wards and other hos­pi­tals. Dr Ralph­man even wrote a cover note to stress how nec­es­sary the nurs­ing home was,” said Mrs Mahlangu. God works in mys­te­ri­ous ways, she added. “Mr Ndu­biwa didn’t ques­tion the re­port at our next meet­ing and said he’d draft the home’s con­sti­tu­tion. Dur­ing that time, fund­ing for char­ity work was less cum­ber­some; there were peo­ple ready to help. We had to get our­selves reg­is­tered.

‘‘Money came to put up the struc­tures but the con­di­tion was that we needed to have 25 per­cent of the to­tal amount,” said Mrs Mahlangu.

The depart­ment of so­cial wel­fare used to pay a per capita grant and bed sub­sidy, which was use­ful in kick­start­ing the home.

“We started at the old and dis­used premises of what was Vundu Clinic be­fore mov­ing to the Eku­phu­mu­leni premises you know to­day. But the prob­lem was staffing.

‘‘We could not en­gage per­ma­nent staff due to lack of re­sources so we de­pended on vol­un­teers who could only work for three months for free. We ended up re­new­ing con­tracts for these vol­un­teers but pay­ing them a lit­tle al­lowance.”

Busi­nesses, churches and well-wish­ers have con­tin­ued to play a big role in sus­tain­ing op­er­a­tions at Eku­phu­mu­leni.

But in re­cent years, Mrs Mahlangu said, do­na­tions have dried up and the home is barely manag­ing.

“Peo­ple do do­nate in their var­i­ous ways but we’re still strug­gling. The Min­istry of Health and Child Care has been do­ing its part but its not enough.”

The home’s ad­min­is­tra­tor Ms Sukoluhle Hove said the home was be­ing sus­tained by the kind­ness of peo­ple.

“We’re manag­ing through well-wish­ers. Ev­ery­thing is really out of the kind­ness of peo­ple.

‘‘The Min­istry of Health and Child Care only gives us a nurs­ing salary grant for some of the staff and the rest, the home has to look for. Food, laun­dry and so forth are catered for by the kind­ness of peo­ple,” she said.

Ms Hove said they ex­pect res­i­dents to pay $100 per month and ask them to bring their own toi­letries.

“But in many cases, they say their next of kin can’t af­ford this. Some are no longer work­ing and they’ve got their own fam­i­lies to take care of. So you find that we’re owed a lot of money and end up re­ly­ing heav­ily on well-wish­ers. We owe dif­fer­ent ser­vice providers about $69 000,” she said.

Ms Hove said they were push­ing to start their own in­come gen­er­at­ing projects.

“Our gar­den is com­ing up well, we grow our own veg­eta­bles. We’ve got a farm which was given to us some years back and we’re say­ing if we de­velop that, and run projects there, we’ll be able to get sus­tain­able in­come. We’re look­ing for donors who can come in and help us out.”

e max­i­mum in­take at Eku­phu­mu­leni Ge­ri­atric Nurs­ing Home is 62 but 45 are ad­mit­ted at the home.

“It’s a big num­ber to care for moreso con­sid­er­ing the fact that more than half of them are not able to do things for them­selves. Quite a few are bedrid­den and they need peo­ple to at­tend to them 24 hours a day.” — @Yolis­swa.

Re­tired nurse and founder of Eku­phu­mu­leni Ge­ri­atric Nurs­ing Home, Mrs Polyanna Mahlangu

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