Executive tells how cheaper frail-care plans turned down: The Herald

The department accepted the high bid. It was for a total of R104m

CONTRACTORS Life Healthcare offered the Department of Social Development cheaper options for frail care twice in a desperate attempt to keep the facilities in Port Elizabeth open and ensure the dignified treatment of patients.

This came to light following news of the imminent closure of the two Life Esidimeni Centres – Lorraine Frail Care and Algoa Frail Care – at the end of the month after the provincial department failed to renew the contract of Eastern Cape Frail Care, part of the Life Healthcare group.

The two centres house a total 240 residents.

Life Healthcare director Dr Nilesh Patel said the company was highly frustrated and extremely distressed by what had happened.

Meanwhile, social development superintendent-general Stanley Khanyile said non-profit organisations (NPOs) would be offered R4 000 a patient a month to take over the care function.

But Algoa Bay Council for the Aged official Maureen Andreka said she had received reliable information that the department planned to reduce this grant to R2 000 in three years’ time.

Khanyile did not reply to a request for comment on this claim.

The R4 000 being offered represents a cut of 75% in the budget – which is R16 000 a patient until the end of this month – for frail care in Port Elizabeth.

Patel and Andreka said a frail-care service could not be provided at R4 000 a patient a month.

Patel said Life Healthcare had started providing frail care in Port Elizabeth in 2008 and was surprised when the department called for tenders in 2014 at a vastly inflated price.

“We tendered at the inflated price but as we were concerned about it, we also offered two cheaper options,” he said. “The department accepted the high bid. “It was for a total of R104-million over two years.

“The cheaper options were for R73-million and R96-million over the same time.

“We were happy to do the work at whatever price. “The expensive option required us to employ between 45 and 60 additional staff members and renovate our buildings to create semi-private wards.

“In January and February this year, the department said the contract price was too high.

“We said we would provide the service at one of the cheaper rates – it works out to about R400 or R500 a person a day.

“The department never even came back to us.”

Patel said Life Healthcare was desperate to discuss a handover plan to ensure the care of residents was not compromised. “If they need access to the buildings and our equipment, we can make a plan,” he said.

“We asked that the contract be extended by three months for a smooth handover.

“We are not getting a response. In times of uncertainty people need information.

“Our company is shutting down in two weeks’ time so this is not giving us much time.

“We have been asking department [officials] to talk to us for a few months now.

“We want to know where our residents will be moved to and who will look after them.

“About 80% of them require full-time care,” Patel said.

But Khanyile was adamant the contract would not be renewed.

He said officials were still considering a way forward.

“There are no agreements [with a new service provider] yet,” he said.

Andreka said she found the reduced subsidy most concerning.

“I am not aware of 240 frail-care beds that are available anywhere in the province,” she said.

“The residents at these centres were placed there because of their special needs.

“To qualify for care at these two facilities they had to produce three letters of rejection from NGOs.

“The cost for care now ranges from R8 000 to more than R13 500 a resident a month.

“Nappies alone range from R1 000 upwards.”

DA Eastern Cape legislature leader Bobby Stevenson yesterday implored premier Phumulo Masualle to intervene.

“Let us not turn a blind eye and deaf ear to these poor people,” Stevenson said.

“They do not have powerful voices to stand up and speak for themselves – they can only appeal to our hearts and conscience.

“I cannot stand here today and say nothing when people could potentially lose their lives.”

Patel said in an attempt to provide support to the families of the patients at the facilities, Life Healthcare would hold a meeting at the social development offices in Port Elizabeth on Sunday at 10am. — ellise@timesmedia.co.za