EAST LONDON MORTUARY STILL ‘CHALLENGED’: DAILY DISPATCH

DA MPL and member of the health portfolio committee John Cupido dismissed the department’s handling of the matter as “cosmetic improvements”.

CONDITIONS at some Eastern Cape state mortuaries have improved following last month’s Daily Dispatch investigation, but a senior official said East London’s Woodbrook mortuary was lagging behind.

Dr Tobela Nogela, the director of specialised services in the Health Department, said he had inspected several mortuaries with three other provincial officials and a team from the national department to see what progress had made within the two-week deadline mortuaries were given to address issues raised in the Dispatch report.

Provincial superintendentgeneral Siva Pillay called a meeting of morgue managers after the Dispatch report and gave them two weeks to clean up the mess that had shocked bereaved families and made the facilities a health hazard for both workers and visitors.

Now Nogela’s delegation has inspected progress ahead of visits by members of the provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on health.

Yesterday, Nogela said he had visited mortuaries in Mthatha, Lusikisiki, Bizana and Mdantsane, where there were significant improvements. But he said Woodbrook still had challenges.

“I went to investigate Woodbrook soon after your newspaper ran the exposé. I was shocked to find dirty floors with old blood stains – so old that they were even tough to remove.

“The staff morale was very low due to labour-related matters. We are doing everything we can to change the staff attitude,” he said.

The Dispatch investigation identified Woodbrook as one of the worst mortuaries in the province.

Bodies were piled high in a broken freezer. Some were on trays on the floor while the rest lay uncovered on the ground. Staff were not wearing protective gear.

Nogela said he was told there were factions within the workplace, which exacerbated the problems.

Eric Kriel, a former morgue manager and present chief forensic pathologist at Woodbrook, acknowledged the crisis at the facility at the managers’ meeting with Pillay, saying that problems had existed for quite some time.

Woodbrook was hit by a go-slow protest last year which saw families struggling to bury their loved ones because of postmortem backlogs.

Nogela confirmed that some workers at Woodbrook were given letters of suspension for various charges, but declined to give further details.

He said the rest of the morgues he visited were “spick and span”, adding that the department had worked with managers in the Transkei area to speed up paupers’ burials and clear space in overcrowded facilities.

Nogela was unable to say what had happened to the body of a baby found shoved into a waste bucket at Mthatha mortuary when the Daily Dispatch first visited, saying their energies were focused on addressing general conditions.

DA MPL and member of the health portfolio committee John Cupido dismissed the department’s handling of the matter as “cosmetic improvements”.

“All that is being done is the cleaning of the floors to make it look like they are doing something about the mess and forgetting that after a month, the floor is going to be dirty again.

“The MEC must answer as to how many people are being suspended for this grossly poor management.

“Why aren’t senior people holding direct responsibility for mortuaries being held accountable,” he asked.

Cupido said senior managers were lying to the portfolio committee to hide their own incompetence in the same way that they did about conditions at Komani Psychiatric Hospital.

Staff said conditions had improved at the Lusikisiki mortuary, where Dispatch reporters found 13 badly decomposed bodies that had been unclaimed for over a year.

A worker at the facility said 10 of those bodies have been buried since the report was published and the mortuary had been allocated an additional staff member to relieve the load.

“Our district manager, who last came here in February this year, has been coming to our workplace regularly to check on our progress and is being hands-on,” said the worker.

The Mthatha mortuary manager has now made it compulsory that all workers must take a shower after they have been to the laboratory, after they complained to the Daily Dispatch of shortages of protective gear which led to them picking up germs and diseases.

An employee at the Mount Road police station mortuary in Port Elizabeth said although he did not expect changes to come quickly, he had noticed boxes with new equipment being brought into his workplace. — lindiles@dispatch.co.za / michaelk@dispatch.co.za