On last day of operations, Life Esidimeni centre had to scramble to get accommodation for patients

On last day of operations, Life Esidimeni centre had to scramble to get accommodation for patients

  • On its last day of operations, Life Esidimeni Waverley had to scramble to get accommodation for patients who were supposed to be moved to NGOs.
  • The department informed Waverley that NGOs were full, an inquest has heard. 
  • NGOs had to use outdated pictures to try and match patients with their medical records. 

When the Life Esidimeni Waverley Care Centre shut its doors on 31 May 2016, the facility’s employees had to, at the last minute, find alternative accommodation for 38 frail mental health patients. 

The patients were supposed to have moved to NGOs after the Gauteng health department terminated contracts with Life Esidimeni.  

But on the last day of operations at Waverley, the department informed the facility that NGOs were full. There was also no transport to take the remaining patients to other facilities. 

This is the testimony given by former Life Esidimeni nursing manager Zanele Buthelezi at the Life Esidimeni Inquest sitting in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

READ | Life Esidimeni inquest: Frail patients moved to NGOs instead of hospitals – state witness

The inquest is investigating whether anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 mental healthcare patients when they were moved to NGOs from Life Esidimeni.  

Buthelezi said that, on the last day of the moves, they expected all patients to be transferred to NGOs.  

“The patients were prepared to be transferred to the NGOs. All of us anticipated that the mental health users were going to an NGO. The unfortunate part, they [health department officials] were told the NGOs were full, and there is no way mental healthcare users can be transferred because they had no transport. We were stuck with the mental health users.”

She said that, when they realised what was happening, they had informed the Life Esidimeni head office.  

“We then received information via our head office that the department of health was requesting that they [patients]  be transferred to Randfontein Care Centre.”

She added that 38 patients, mostly men, had been moved at about 20:00. 

“Some of those mental care users were frail. The frail ones were the last to be transferred.” 

A month after the patients were moved to Randfontein,  they were again transferred to the Buhlebenkosi NGO. The NGO received 40 male patients from Randfontein, 10 of whom were originally at Waverley.  

READ | Life Esidimeni care centre had 13 nurses for 604 patients, inquest hears

The legal representative for Buhlebenkosi, advocate Ebenezer Prophy, told Buthelezi that some patients didn’t have name tags when they arrived at the facility. Staff members had to use pictures in the patient files in an effort to match them to their names.  

Prophy said:

Most of the patients didn’t have name tags. How they identified them is that certain files had photographs, but those photographs were outdated. The remaining users’ names were called in the hope they would answer to those names. That is how their files were allocated to them.

Buthelezi answered that she could not account for the month that the patients spent at Randfontein. 

“We handed the record and the medication to government officials. They were the ones responsible to take the mental healthcare user to take them to their transport. I cannot account for what happened when they left our gate.”

Prophy said only four of the 10 patients had arrived with extra clothes.

The rest, he said, only had the pyjamas they were wearing when they arrived.

“That’s not true,” Buthelezi said. 

The inquest continues. 

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