Life Esidimeni Hospital: Nehawu 'putting staff and patients at risk'

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Management of the Life Esidimeni Psychiatric Hospital in Kirkwood has accused the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) of “storming the centre” and placing lives of staff and patients at risk. Groundup says Nehawu is protesting at what the union considers to be inadequate COVID-19 safety protocols at the hospital.

The Eastern Cape Health Department has reported that the hospital had 35 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths. The report says provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo confirmed these numbers, but also sent a Health Department report on the hospital dated 31 May, saying that 27 patients and 10 staff members had been tested positive. The document referred to six deaths, but the table in the document recorded eight deaths.

The report said management had reported “sufficient supplies” of personal protective equipment for staff, though it was difficult to issue these to patients because of their condition. Staff adhered to distancing protocols but most patients were not able to understand them, the report said. Patients’ temperatures were taken every four hours, and all staff were screened daily on entrance. Staff were recommended to go for private tests “as turnaround time is faster”.

Nehawu and the SA National Civics Organisation (SANCO) called for the hospital to be closed saying that a meeting with hospital management about safety protocols had “collapsed” and called for the shutdown of the hospital, the intervention of the Labour Department and the removal of COVID-19 patients.

However, hospital management denied that the meeting had collapsed. Puseletso Jaure, MD, Life Esidimeni, is quoted in Groundup as saying: “Life Healthcare emphatically denies that a scheduled meeting between Life Esidimeni Kirkwood Care Centre management with Nehawu or SANCO collapsed. We would like to clarify that representatives from both SANCO and Nehawu arrived at the Centre, forced themselves in and in the process circumvented the strict adherence to the COVID-19 screening protocols before entering the facility.

“In storming the facility, they knowingly disregarded our strict Covid-19 guidelines, placing staff and patient lives at risk. Furthermore, they refused to leave the premises and had to be escorted out of the facility by the SAPS. The disturbance by Nehawu and SANCO has caused much anxiety to staff and patients.”

Sweetness Stokwe, Nehawu regional secretary in Thabo Moshoeshoe region, said safety must come before profit. Nehawu was now waiting for a report from the Labour Department after a visit by the department on Wednesday, Stokwe said.

Groundup reports that Kupelo did not reply to further questions.

Full Groundup report

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