HEALTH ACTS ON MORGUE CRISIS: DAILY DISPATCH

THE Eastern Cape’s health boss has ordered an immediate probe into the shocking findings of a Daily Dispatch exposé, and promised sweeping changes in two weeks at all State-run mortuaries.

The provincial Health superintendent-general (SG) Dr Siva Pillay yesterday promised an “immediate investigation” would take place into the inadequate qualifications of morgue managers.

The provincial Health Department has done a complete turnaround one day after publication of a Dispatch investigation into the shocking state of government mortuaries in the province.

Responding to allegations prior to publication on Wednesday, the thencomplacent department insisted there was “no crisis”.

The province’s health portfolio committee will also be visiting various State-run mortuaries where horrendous practices are carried out every day.

No specific date has been given for these visits.

During the investigation – in which morgues from Lusikisiki to Port Elizabeth were inspected – corpses were found piled high on floors, a dead baby was found rotting in a waste bucket, organs were left out in the open, and staff were exposed to deadly diseases.

Breaking their silence for the first time, morgue workers revealed overburdened workloads, managerial incompetence and a “disinterested” provincial Health Department.

In all forensic laboratories visited during the month-long investigation, no managers were on site.

The Dispatch team, which travelled a total of 2 500km, discovered that morgue employees often handled corpses without protective gear such as masks, aprons and gloves that are prescribed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

When asked why the conditions were so appalling, Pillay said that before he took the hot seat, the department had concentrated on “superficial” changes.

“Window dressing, actually. But I want to make fundamental changes now … from the ground up,” he said.

The former parliamentarian also said the department was still dealing with the “sub-standard state” and “poor management levels” the mortuaries were burdened with when they were moved from the police’s jurisdiction to the provincial Health Department in 2006.

Pillay – who has faced many death threats for his stand against corruption – admitted yesterday that many morgue managers across the province only had a “standard three” (Grade 5) education.

But the health boss promised: “We will immediately visit the morgues and examine the qualifications of all managers.”

He said while the department would not be able to “fire them on the spot”, they would be transferred to jobs “more suited” to their qualifications.

“We can’t lower their salaries either, but they won’t get a pay increase until they meet expected qualifications.”

A former Uitenhage mayor, Pillay said: “We can do something, and we will, but it will take a few days … two weeks.”

Pillay said the department’s supply chain process – which deals with procurement and tenders – was also a “problem” that needed “immediate attention”.

“There is money for protective clothing and equipment. Money was already allocated but I have to chase people to spend money. It is ridiculous,” he revealed.

Saying he was not angry about the Dispatch’s exposé, the SG said: “The newspaper must monitor us always, we appreciate it – but it must also work with us to fix the problems.”

The provincial Department of Health recently moved from a disclaimer to a qualified audit.

On the improvement, Pillay said the department was on the mend.

“There is a lot of things that are wrong with the department. Look at Elizabeth Donkin [Hospital] in Port Elizabeth. I would not even let my dog stay there,” the health boss admitted.

Mxolisi Dimaza, ANC chairperson of the health portfolio committee, agreed to make “oversight visits” to various State mortuaries in the province following the Dispatch’s investigation.

The request for the visits “as a matter of urgency” was made by the DA on Wednesday.

“The job of a portfolio committee is to exercise stringent oversight on State-run facilities and if need be, make firm recommendations to the legislature … where substantive resolutions are made and put into effect,” said the party’s acting provincial health spokesperson John Cupido.