24 October 2017

South Africa: Most Implicated in Life Esidimeni Scandal By Ombud Have Not Faced Disciplinary Action

Eleven Gauteng health employees were singled out for censure. Now, only two have been suspended and garnered an alleged R1.3-million in wages.

Only two Gauteng department of health officials have faced disciplinary action since a damning February ombudsman report recommended almost a dozen employees involved in the Life Esidimeni tragedy face such sanctions.

Gauteng head of health Barney Selebano and the director of the mental health directorate, Makgabo Manamela were suspended with pay following the ombud report. But the document also recommended that another nine current and former Gauteng health employee face censure.

This has not yet happened, confirmed Gauteng deputy director general of communication services, Thabo Masebe, late last week.

Among those who have not faced what the ombudsman termed "corrective disciplinary action" in his recommendations are five deputy directors of the Gauteng Directorate of Mental Health as well as two CEOs from the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre (CCRC).

This is an extract from the report:

"Corrective disciplinary action must be taken against members of the [Gauteng Directorate of Mental Health]: Ms. S Mashile (Deputy Director); Mr. F Thobane (Deputy Director); Ms. H Jacobus (Deputy Director); Ms. S Sennelo (Deputy Director); Dr. S Lenkwane, (Deputy Director); Mr. M Pitsi (Chief Director); Ms. D Masondo (Chair MHRB), Ms. M Nyatlo (CEO of CCRC), Ms. M Malaza (Acting CEO of CCRC) in compliance with the Disciplinary Code and Procedures applicable to them."

The CCRC received 141 former Life Esidimeni patients following a 2015 decision by the Gauteng department of health to terminate a long-standing contract with the private hospital group to provide care for state-funded patients.

At least 25 mental health patients later died on the centre's premises. Of the more than 1300 mental health patients that were removed from Life Esidimeni care, at least 141 died, and another 59 are still missing, hearings have revealed.

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has yet to testify against as part of arbitration hearings. Mahlangu, who once alluded she would litigate against detractors in an exclusive 2016 interview with Bhekisisa, is reportedly in London studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science, according to Bloom.

Tuesday, the school's head of external communications, Áine Duffy, said she could not confirm Mahlangu was a registered student.

The case of the missing MEC

Meanwhile, calls have intensified for her to testify as part of the arbitration hearings, which have provided families the first glimpses of those who allegedly played a role in patient deaths.

Almost four out of every 10 mental health patients transferred into Ethel Ncube's care died; the highest death rate recorded among the nongovernmental organisations that took in state mental health patients from Life Esidimeni facilities. Her Precious Angels NGO is allegedly responsible for 23 deaths, making it the worst of all the 27 unlicensed NGOs charged with patient care.

According to the health ombud report, Precious Angels received 57 Life Esidimeni patients. Testifying last week, Ncube denied accusations that patients had died of cold and hunger because the provincial health department had failed to pay Precious Angels for three months.

But in reply to questions by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and legal representatives of Life Esidimeni patients' families, Ncube admitted that possessing a certificate in early childhood education did not qualify her to care for mentally ill adults.

And, despite having cared only for children with intellectual disabilities, Ncube said she opened her doors to Life Esidimeni patients because she wanted to gain experience and expand her organisation. She said she felt mounting pressure from the Gauteng health department to accept increasing numbers of patients.

She blamed the deaths on the Gauteng health department, which she said never supported Precious Angels.

When the department failed to pay the NGO, she solicited donations and took out loans to pay for the patients' upkeep, and ultimately sold her car to fund the project.

"The department really failed us," she said.

At one point during her testimony, a family member of one patient yelled out "liar".

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