Esidimeni tragedy: A patient died almost every second day, social worker tells

Daphney Ndhlovu works at the Cullinan Care Rehabilitation Centre which is one of the NGOs where most patients from Esidimeni died.

Daphney Ndhlovu, a social worker at the Cullinan Care Rehabilitation Centre, testifies at the Life Esidimeni alternative dispute resolution process in Johannesburg on 16 October 2017. Picture: Masego Rahlaga/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – A social worker has described the frustration and chaos during the time that psychiatric patients were moved from Esidimeni facilities saying they would receive news of at least one patient dying every second day.

Daphney Ndhlovu works at the Cullinan Care Rehabilitation Centre, which is one of the NGOs where most patients from Esidimeni died.

One hundred and forty-one mentally ill patients died after the Gauteng Health Department terminated its contract with the Life Esidimeni group.

Ndhlovu says that she and other social workers were stressed during the time when Esidimeni patients were being moved to the Cullinan Care Rehabilitation Centre because they were dying in very large numbers.

Ndhlovu has described the time patients were moved as hectic.

“We were going up and down going to fetch the patients, discharging some patients. Sometimes when you come back to the institution, patients are sick, being taken to the hospital. It was indeed very hectic last year.”

More social workers and psychologists from NGOs are expected to take the stand this week before the family members of those who died are called.

SOME FAMILIES NOTIFIED LATE

It’s been revealed in the arbitration process into the Esidimeni tragedy that some families were notified of their loved one’s deaths almost a year later.

This was revealed by Ndhlovu.

Section 27's lawyer Nicky Stein, who represents the families of 55 people who died, has revealed how two patients died around July last year but their families were only notified about their deaths this February.

Stein said that in one case, officials themselves did not know where the patient was, until finally eight months later, social workers realised the patient had died and was in a state mortuary.

Ndhlovu conceded to these shocking details.

Arbitration head Dikgang Moseneke asked: “On the facts here that you visited the family in February 2017 and he died in July 2016."

Ndhlovu responded: “In this case it is correct. I remember telling that the patient passed on long time ago (sic). ”

As this was being discussed, a family member whose father died but his family was not told for months, walked out of the room crying.

Ndhlovu has told the Esidimeni hearings that many of the patients who were hastily moved to the NGO where she works did not fit the necessary criteria.

She said this means some of the patients from Esidimeni were not supposed to be housed at the NGO to begin with.

“According to the initial agreement, the CEO informed us there is going to be a multi-disciplinary team from Cullinan to Life Esidimeni to select the patients according to the criteria of our institution. But that has never happened.”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)