Families still awaiting answers on SA psychiatric patient deaths

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Gauteng Health/strong> ignored dire warnings not to ‘de-institutionalise’ over 1,000 psychiatric patients from secure care facilities run by Life Esidimeni. Now 37 patients have died in a few months – and families want answers, reports Health-e News.

Reverend Joseph Maboe, whose son Billy was a patient at the Randfontein Care Centre, has joined the chorus of concern. “I said: ‘People, all of us here must remember we are dealing with human beings. If these people are going to be taken away, as I hear, we aren’t doing justice to anybody and we’re doing an injustice to them and to ourselves as parents,” Joseph recalled.

The report says he was eerily correct. Billy became a casualty of government’s haste. Unbeknown to Joseph, Billy was moved from Randfontein to an NGO called Bophelong, over 100km away in Hammanskraal.

A nondescript residential home down a dusty road, Bophelong has no official signage outside to indicate that it is housing close to 40 psychiatric male patients. When Joseph eventually managed to track Billy down, he was shocked by what he found. Billy was pale, gaunt, suffering from a bad cough and very hungry. Worst of all, he had lost control over his bladder so Joseph immediately asked for a doctor’s visit to be arranged. But that was the last time he ever saw his son alive. Two days after his visit, Billy was admitted to Jubilee District Hospital where he died four days later.

Appalled by the neglect his son faced, Joseph feels the blame for his death lies squarely on Bophelong and on Gauteng Health for sending Billy there: “That was the end, that was the end of my son’s life… they were just dumped there, dumped. It’s a dumping ground as far as I’m concerned,” said Joseph, shaking his head in disbelief.

The report says instead of being shut down following Billy’s death, Bophelong is still operating. According to staff at the NGO, MEC Qedani Mahlangu herself visited them in mid-September and said Bophelong was “satisfactory”.

But Cassey Chambers, operations director at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group says that the NGOs the former Life Esidimeni patients were relocated to don’t seem to meet basic requirements. “The feedback from the family members is that these are new NGOs; they are people who have recently converted their house or taken on extra patients,” said Cassey. “There are special criteria physically for what NGOs need to look like with access to bathrooms, to emergency exits, food, security and the most important thing, treatment programmes… and what we’re picking up from a lot of NGOs is that that’s not in place.”

Health-e News material

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