Life Esidimeni- What went wrong?
I can only imagine that a decision to take a loved one to a care facility is not an easy one. One hopes that their relative will be well-taken care off and given the attention they need. None of us foresee death especially one that cannot be explained.
For weeks fingers have been pointed at the Gauteng health department following the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients who were moved by the department from Life Esidimeni health care center to non-government organisations across the province.
One does, however, wonder whether growing calls from the opposition for MEC Qedani Mahlangu to step down as the person responsible for the health portfolio in Gauteng are founded?
I don’t know if her resignation will solve anything, however, she needs to account and give the necessary answers to shed more light on what really happened.
With that said, we also need to take a closer look at the institution that the patients called home for years- Life Esidimeni.
*Life Esidimeni’s relationship with the department of health
Life Esidimeni – is part of the Life Healthcare group, it has been taking care of indigent patients, contracted to the national and provincial departments of Health and Social Development, for over five decades. Their services are meant to be aligned with national and provincial guidelines.
The company delivers hospital based services in the fields of chronic mental healthcare, frail care, chronic rehabilitation and acute care in five provinces.
*What was the death rate like at Life Esidimeni?
I had a chat with the institution’s health care services operations executive Dr Nilesh Patel.
If you think the deaths of 36 patients in a space of 5 months is shocking…..wait for it…
In 2011 – 78 patients died at the institution, 97 patients died in 2012 and 90 patients died in 2014.
Dr Patel says most of those who died were suffering from illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and TB.
He says patients with chronic severe mental health disorders have a reduced life expectancy of around 10-25 years.
* Why did the department move the patients from Life?
Reasons cited for contract termination was,” to conform to the mental health act which stipulate that patients must be taken care off by communities, Compliance with Public Finances management act, the contract was entered into in 1979 it was an irregular as per Auditor General, finally it was becoming unaffordable with cost unreasonably escalating yearly” – said Gauteng health spokesperson Steve Mabona.
“the department was under pressure from a financial perspective and could no longer afford to fund these patients under our care”- Dr Nilesh Patel
*Was the transfer smooth?
No it wasn’t, most patients left the institution without their clinical files which were apparently withheld by Life Esidimeni management.
The files contained vital patient history that would have enabled the NGOs they were moved to, to know what they were suffering from and what medication they needed.
MEC Mahlangu told the provincial legislature that they did not have clinical files when the patients were given over to their facilities.
However, the Institution’s Dr. Patel refuted the claims and said the process of discharging and transferring patients covered their medication, mobility aids, personal belongings, and relevant patient clinical information.
*So what now?
Well, sadly bereaved families have already buried their loved ones and all eyes are now on the much-awaited report from the Health Ombudsman who has launched an investigation that could see heads roll.
The decision to ask the Health Ombudsman to investigate the allegations was taken after a marathon of consultative meetings between health minister Dr. Aaaron Motsoaledi and MEC Mahlangu.
Dr. Motsoaledi has since said his office will only make a pronouncement on the matter once the ombudsman has provided a report and recommendations on the matter.