The second fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) on 5 July has led to renewed questions about progress for the repair and rehabilitation of the 1,100-bed public hospital that is vital to health care and training.
The fire broke out in the parking lot beneath the hospital, the same site as the fire of 16 April 2021. It was quickly contained and did not require any evacuation of patients, reports the Daily Maverick.
However, a doctor who works there said the forensic investigation by police suggested it was set deliberately. He said fingerprints were found close by.
A second source also believes the fire was started deliberately, although he suggested it could also have been created by a homeless person sheltering in the building.
The possibility that the fire was intentional reinforces speculation that the continued thefts from the hospital, despite security guards, and now the latest fire, are linked to people disgruntled by not having received tenders for the hospital’s repair, a problem acknowledged by Health Minister Joe Phaahla this year.
In June, a doctor said there was still “ongoing theft” at the hospital. “Copper piping is being stolen and affecting oxygen supply and suctioning affecting patient care in particular (paediatric) surgery.”
Future of the hospital
Maverick Citizen has been told that the forensic report into the first fire has now been completed, but not made public. An official in the national Health Department said: “The estimated damage is huge and there is significant structural damage to blocks 4/5. Remedial work is vital to prevent the building from collapsing. Temporary propping is in place. That will take until the end 2023 to secure – but at least the funds are secured.”
Although the hospital is now said to be back at 85% functionality and has resumed outpatient services, departments and staff morale remain affected.
A doctor said: “CMJAH is a freezer. Current heating in blocks A and E is being undertaken by Gift of the Givers. Heating for the rest of the hospital blocks is still a problem. There is no definitive plan. No allocation of budget.
“The current focus from DBSA (Development Bank of SA) and DoH is the fire requirements but the actual maintenance by Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID) is absent.”
However, since a proclamation in February by Premier David Makhura, the GDID is no longer responsible for the hospital, so it is unclear where responsibility falls for daily maintenance. Apparently the Gauteng DOH would like this function to be transferred back to the GDID – but the latter doesn’t want it.
Meanwhile, the doctor says: “I am in utter despair at the lack of input and speed at getting what needs to be done and restoring us to full functionality.”
An official in the national Health Department said: “The entire building must be retrofitted for fire protection. That has to be done by decanting block by block. Options are: internal over five years or external over half that time. The latter means moving elsewhere and the staff and clinicians appear not to support this.”
Three proposals are:
• To “decant” departments to other spaces within the hospital;
• To “decant” departments to private hospitals as part of a public private partnership: discussion have been under way about using Netcare Clinton Hospital and Netcare Union Hospital in Alberton for this purpose; and/or
• Moving parts of the hospital to the Alternative Building Technology 500-bed ICU hospital, which is mired in controversy. The hospital was built at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital as part of the COVID response. Fewer than 100 beds at this facility are being used.
There is also the urgent question of what will happen to Gauteng’s only dental school and hospital at CMJAH.
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