Gauteng health officials warned of possible Life Esidimeni tragedy
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Pretoria - Gauteng Health Department officials were warned that their “marathon project” to transfer 2 600 mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni could have the same effect as that of two children who died in 2007 due to neglect when they were moved to an NGO.
Dr Basuku Morgan Makhatshwa, the managing director of Life Esidimeni at the time of the tragedy, testified that he told the department that the hasty transfer of the patients could potentially have disastrous consequences.
Makhatshwa was the second witness to take the stand on the second day of the inquest following the deaths of 144 mentally patients in 2016. The hearing is taking place in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, via a virtual hearing.
Makhatshwa testified that the department held a trial run in 2007 when they relocated some children who were cared for by Life Esidimeni to a NGO.
At the time, 15 children were transferred, and two died of neglect – they were severely dehydrated and malnourished. The remaining 13 were returned to Life Esidimeni.
“They were in a bad shape, and we never wanted this to happen again,” he said. After the Life Esidimeni tragedy in 2016, Makhatshwa resigned because “it was frustrating to work with a government who refuses to listen to advice”.
The department initially planned on moving these patients from 2013 up to 2020 by reducing 200 beds annually. But the plan was crammed into seven months, with these patients being moved to NGOs.
Makhatshwa said the reason given by the department for the transfer of the patients to NGOs and to terminate Life Esidimeni’s contract was to save costs. Makhatshwa said Life Esidimeni’s costs in looking after the patients were, at the time, already as low as possible, and some months they did not receive payment from the department, but agreed to continue looking after the patients.
He also offered to check on some of the facilities to which the patients were due to be moved, but the department did not respond to this.
Makhatswa said he’d also wanted to assist the NGOs in learnng how to look after the patients.
He said that in a bid to save costs, the department was also willing to “dump” these patients back into society.
When scores of patients were transferred to NGOs on a daily basis, Life Esidimeni made sure that each of them were handed over with their medication, personal belongings and a summary discharge file, the court was told.
But Cassie Chambers, of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on Monday, testified that some of these patients were transferred without these.
Makhatshwa insisted that these necessities were handed over to officials from the department.
“Life Esidimeni had zero control over what happened to it once it was handed over to the department,” he said.
The matter continues.