Ekuphumuleni Geriatric Nursing Home pioneers
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