‘I’m not going to pay for ill people’: The Herald

MEC to press ahead on moving frail care patients

‘ They are even giving them oxygen that my department must pay for. My budget isn’t for oxygen. If people are sick, they must go to state hospitals

DESPITE a scathing health ombudsman report on the deaths of mentally ill patients in Gauteng, Eastern Cape Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi has insisted she will go ahead with a controversial plan to move Port Elizabeth frail care patients to non-government organisations (NGOs).

She said yesterday she was not swayed by ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s report that led to the resignation of Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

Sihlwayi’s intransigence follows an outcry towards the end of last year when the provincial Department of Social Development announced plans to move 240 patients from the only two fully state-funded frail-care centres in Port Elizabeth, run by Life Esidimeni – a subsidiary of Life Healthcare – and rehouse them with NGOs.

Makgoba found yesterday that the Gauteng Department of Health was negligent when it moved 1 900 patients from Life Healthcare facilities to private homes run by unlicensed NGOs, calling the plan reckless, unwise and flawed.

He found that the Gauteng move had led to the deaths of at least 94 patients.

But Sihlwayi said yesterday: “Our situation is not the same thing. That was health. I don’t deal with sick people.”

Sihlwayi said she had seen the report but was going ahead with her plans regardless.

“Do you remember when I said that I have no intention to extend the contract for Life Healthcare? Nothing has changed,” she said.

Sihlwayi and department director-general Stanley Khanyile agreed to a court order late last year that Life Esidimeni’s contract to run the Lorraine Frail Care and Algoa Frail Care centres would be kept open until the end of this month.

The case, brought by the Frail Care Crisis Collective (FCCC) – a group of patients’ families – is back in court on February 23, when a judge will decide whether the contract must be extended further.

In the meantime, the department is barred from moving anybody from the centres without the permission of Advocate Sarah Sephton, who was appointed as a curator for the patients.

Sihlwayi said her department had had to readvertise a call for proposals on Saturday as

only six NGOs indicated last year that they could take patients from the frail care centres.

She is determined to finalise the process by the end of the month.

“We also need to normalise the discrepancies,” Sihlwayi said.

“We can’t pay an old age home R1 750 to look after one old person, and R16 000 to look after another.

“Some of the people in these centres are ill. I am not going to pay for ill people.

“They are even giving them oxygen that my department must pay for. My budget isn’t for oxygen.

“If people are sick, if they need a doctor or a physiotherapist, they must go to the state hospital.

“This frail care is only for the poor and the vulnerable. It is for people who have nobody to look after them.

“I am not going to pay for a frail care for the mothers of doctors, lawyers and professors,” she said.

Sihlwayi said her department had decided it would not send people to unregistered NGOs and would only use organisations with more than three years’ experience.

“We are implementing a [one-] year trial period for these NGOs and we will then develop a service delivery model.”

FCCC spokesman Robin Ownhouse said they hoped, in unison with the families of the Gauteng patients, that the full might of the law would come down on those implicated by the ombudsman.

“All of this could have been prevented if the Life Esidimeni contract was renewed,” he said.

Algoa Bay Council for the Aged chief executive Maureen Andreka said the department was now refusing to place new patients at the Port Elizabeth frail care centres.

The council handles the placement process at the two centres.

“We received a call last week from Lorraine Frail Care saying [the centre] must start filling beds.

“We started placing people, but the department asked us why,” Andreka said.

“They said they were not aware that they must start placing people at the centres again.”

However, a provision in the court order stated that the department should not stop placing patients in the frail care centres.

DA MPL Kobus Botha welcomed the ombudsman’s report. “Sihlwayi must study this report for the sake of patients affected by the intended closure of the Life Esidimeni Algoa Frail Care Centre and the Lorraine Frail Care Centre in Port Elizabeth,” he said.

“The MEC has an opportunity here to save lives instead of destroying people’s dignity, and to avoid costly lawsuits.

“We are facing a massive potential social crisis and must at all costs avoid what happened in Gauteng.” — Estelle Ellis ellise@timesmedia.co.za