‘They were greedy‚ they forgot they were dealing with lives’ – Families await health ombud report on psychiatric patients’ deaths


Virginia Machphela‚ who was barely able to speak‚ died on 25 August‚ an estimated six weeks after she was discharged from Life Esidimeni Psychiatric care home.

Almost 2‚000 patients were discharged from the government-sponsored private care homes last June and it is believed almost 80 died in the NGOs where they were subsequently placed.

The health ombudsman will release his findings into the deaths today.

Nxumalo has complained to the health ombudsman about the delay in receiving the autopsy and is waiting for this to be investigated.

Unbeknown to Nxumalo‚ her sister was taken to Precious Angels‚ an unmarked home in Atteridgeville‚ that was said to be a NGO.

Following reports of nine people dying‚ the unregistered NGO was later shut down.

Nxumalo is nervous about the release of the ombudsman’s report on Wednesday‚ as she feels it will detail the horror of what many patients experienced.

“As much as we know the extent of how bad it is‚ it scares me…because I have this strange feeling we only just know tip of what is going on.”

The Sowetan has reported that ombudsman Prof Malegapuru Makgoba’s inaugural report suggests that MEC Qedani Mahlangu is not fit to hold office.

“Being fired is not enough. It can’t be that simple.

“The NGO owners allowed people into there [inappropriate facilities‚ they] should be criminally charged.

“They didn’t stand and ask the Department of Health to help them [when things went wrong].

“They were greedy‚ they forgot they were dealing with lives‚” said Nxumalo.

Many reports of family members hunting for their loved ones emerged after they were moved from Life Esidimeni hospital facilities without warning‚ only to find them in unsuitable NGOs‚ emaciated‚ dirty and thirsty. Andrew Pietersen‚ head of the family committee on the issues‚ said families “wanted justice”.

“Somebody must take the rap for this. Something must be done.”

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group fought the removals with meetings and court action. Its spokeswoman Cassey Chambers said: “The organisation still gets weekly calls from families whose relatives were discharged from NGOs and have nowhere to go.”

She hoped the report “would address if there were going to be structural changes to help people in the future”.

Here are 9 things you need to know:

1) Mahlangu was warned of the danger a year in advance

In June 2016‚ Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu relocated 1‚900 patients from a government paid-for private care facility into 122 small non-governmental organisations in order to save more than R200 million a year.

In June 2015‚ when the MEC made her plans to discharge the severely psychotic patients to NGOs‚ the SA Society of Psychiatrists sent her a letter clearly stating that the country’s NGOs did not have capacity to look after such sick people.

2) Families‚ literally‚ begged her to save their loved ones

Families met with the MEC or her staff on Saturday mornings in November 2015 and told her their stories about their loved ones and how they were too sick to be discharged. Some patients were psychotic‚ others dangerous‚ and one even sets fire to property when alone.

Some relatives like Reverend Joseph Maboe are 80 years old and unable to look after his son and he told the MEC’s staff this.

3) NGOs were forced to use the courts to save patients at Christmas

Section 27 and the SA Depression and Anxiety Group used the Johannesburg high court to stop patients being secretly discharged at Christmas time in 2015. In court‚ the Gauteng department of health made promises that it would communicate with families about when loved ones were moved and also ensure patients were placed in appropriate accommodation.

They never did this.

4) Patients disappeared

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group got calls from relatives hunting high and low for relatives who had were discharged in June to unknown locations.

5) Patients got typhoid‚ meaning caregivers didn’t wash their hands

The Takalani home for disabled children in Soweto was asked to take in psychiatric adults.

At least two adults got typhoid at the NGO‚ the health department confirmed last year. Typhoid is spread from poor hygiene after going to the toilet and poor hygiene practises when preparing food.

6) Psychotic people were transported in taxis

Patients in a home Braamfisherville were taken by taxi to fetch medication at the clinic even though they were psychotic and should have been kept at the home.

7) Patients went to the bar

A family member discovered that her daughter left a NGO in Braamfisherville and went drinking at the local shebeen‚ despite requiring supervision for severe bipolar disorder.

8) Starving and thirsty‚ to the point of death

Reports from Precious Angels NGO where nine people died suggested that patients died of hunger and dehydration.

One person who died at a home in Hammanskraal was thirsty when his father last saw him. Caregivers told the patient’s dad they didn’t want him to wet his bed so they didn’t give him enough fluids.

9) Even Ban-Ki-Moon got involved

The United Nations called for a clear plan of action for looking after the remaining psychiatric patients after the first deaths were reported.

– TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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