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Families of mentally ill relatives saddened by dept's move

18 March 2016, 12:32 Mpho Raborife, News24

Johannesburg – The families of mentally ill patients who have spent years being cared for at Life Esidimeni Care Centres are concerned they will not get the care they need following a court ruling forcing them to move out.

- Read more: Court rules in favour of health dept discharging 54 mentally ill patients

Andrew Pietersen's uncle, Victor, had been a patient at the Waverley Care Centre in Germiston for well over 20 years. He was diagnosed with cerebrospinal meningitis in his teens.

Pietersen said having his uncle at the hospital had put their minds at ease because of the level of quality, specialised care the 67-year-old received.

"These people are very specialised in terms of what they need, the kind of attention they need, the kind of care they need, and so on, which is what they're getting where they are now," he said.

- Health24: Mental Health

He and other families who had relatives at the hospital felt like the Gauteng department of health had let them down.

"We are very upset. This is a very bad way that we have been treated," Pietersen said.

The family was unable to care for him and he did not want to come home.

Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s department and the hospital group agreed in December last year to terminate their contract.

The group served more than 2 000 patients aged between 24 and 101 and provided in-patient care, treatment and rehabilitation for people with chronic psychiatric disorders and severe intellectual disabilities.

The department had decided to send the first batch of 54 patients to the Takalani Home for the Mentally Handicapped, an NGO based in Diepkloof, Soweto.

Court application

On Monday, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) and two other applicants filed an urgent application in the High Court in Johannesburg to prevent the department from moving the 54 to Takalani. It said the facility was not equipped to handle patients with conditions such as schizophrenia and cerebral palsy.

The court dismissed their application on Tuesday and gave the department permission to continue with its plans.

On Wednesday, Pietersen said when Mahlangu spoke to them it became apparent it was “sort of a financial move”.

"What it told us is that they don't really put a premium on our family members. They're prepared to throw them out at a whim, just on the grounds of the fact that they are now paying too much money and they want to save costs.”

Pietersen said growing up, he remembered how difficult it was for his grandmother to always keep her son out of danger.

"My grandmother used to go and look for him because he would run all over the place and expose himself to danger around the township where we grew up.

"Sometimes he would come back injured and he'd be talking to himself and beating himself up," Pietersen said.

Since his admission to the hospital, he had changed and was no longer as “hectic”. He had settled in and was responding to the medication. Whenever the family brought him home for a visit, the change in environment always seemed to set him off again.

Relapse fears

Nompilo Nkosi's brother suffered from autism and had also been staying at Life Waverley Care Centre, for 13 years. "The slightest distraction sets him off. He will relapse," she said.

Her brother, 30, was diagnosed with autism when he was two. They had tried many options before they took him to Esidimeni. “Takalani did not work. Takalani is for kids. Life works, it really works. Why terminate what works?" she asked.

Although the department had agreed to extend its contract to June to ensure a smooth transition for the patients, it had not approached the family about her brother's move, she claimed.

"We told them that we would like them to address the families as to what is happening, but they didn't do that," she said.

Nkosi said the court's decision was a major blow to the families affected.

"It is painful, it is frustrating, it is stressful. They are doing things behind our backs, they don't respect the law or have any consideration for the patients' human rights and their dignity.”

Safety concerns

Marion Conway's mother had been a patient at the Life Randwest Care Centre since December 2014. The 56-year-old suffered from schizophrenia.

Conway's biggest worry was that safety and security at Takalani would not be as strict as at the hospital. She had been at an NGO before going to Esidimeni.

"These NGOs allow patients to roam the streets. They are not forced to be inside the facility. I don't even know where they will take her to. The old NGO won't even take her back because she is treatment resistant."

Conway said she was unable to care for her mother herself and could not afford a private healthcare facility.

"Even if I were to put her in private care, you're looking at about R35 000 a month. You can't afford it, no one can afford it unless you're Rockefeller that's earning R1 million a month."

No patient will be neglected

MEC Mahlangu welcomed the court’s decision and said no patient would be neglected.

"We will continue to work with all stakeholders to make sure that no patient will be neglected or thrown on the streets as result of this contract termination," she said.

Takalani was able to handle the patients being moved there, she said. Those whose families could take them back would get home-based treatment.

- News24


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