East Cape in frail care funds crisis

Brian Hayward haywardb@avusa.co.za

THOUSANDS of pensioners in the Eastern Cape who rely on around the clock care from non-profit, frail care homes are facing an uncertain future following crippling government funding cuts of more than 50%.

In a shock move, the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development has slashed its funding for frail care homes run by non-profit organisations (NPOs), as well as for “service centres” which guarantee pensioners, who struggle to get by on their R1100 monthly state pension, a subsidised lunch daily.

In some cases, funds have been cut by up to 50% in a move the department has told NPOs is “due to budget constraints”.

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Since April, funding from the department for pensioners living in frail care homes run by NPOs has been substantially less than what the homes have for the past five years relied on to help cover their monthly costs of caring for the infirm.

Although part of the shortfall has in some cases eventually been paid over by the department – it varies from home to home – it has still amounted to less than the full subsidy, while the latest tranche paid last week has for the third consecutive month been “vastly inadequate”, according to NPOs.

Nelson Mandela Bay’s frail care home in Zwide, Ekuphumleni, has had the funding for its service centre, which caters for 240 pensioners in the Zwide, Veeplaas and Soweto-on-Sea areas, cut from R41000 monthly to just R16000 a month.

Meanwhile, after being shortpaid R14000 by the department for its April and May funding for the 60 frail residents it cares for, Ekuphumleni was last week short-paid again. Instead of receiving the already bare minimum subsidy of R102000 monthly, it received R93500.

Ekuphumleni head Mike Tsietso said he was not sure how the centre would survive the cuts.

“This is making it impossible to operate,” he said. “In the past two months, government has been cutting down the money they give us. In these two months we had to make bank loans. We had to cut down on meals and certain projects and can’t pay the staff full salaries.

“If this continues, we will have to look for another place … because we can’t even maintain the building as it stands now.”

Nonzima Mzana, 93, one of the first four people to move into Ekuphumleni, said: “I arrived here in 1984 and things are not the same as before. We don’t eat the same way. We just eat to survive now. I don’t know where I would go if the home were to close down.”

A tearful 71-year-old Regina Kula said she had been in the same struggle as government leaders. “I am now old and have to use nappies, but sometimes the home runs out of them [because of a lack of funds].

“The nurses then use towels as nappies and I sometimes wake up wet up to my head. I plead with the government that we fought for to help us.”

The Algoa Bay Council for the Aged was also paid late, and R12000 was still outstanding for its June subsidy payments, according to chief executive Maureen Andreka.

Andreka said the newly enacted Older Persons Act, which came into effect on April 1, was specifically promulgated to prevent such sudden cuts. “The department has decided to cut funds to community-based care – the very aspect of care it claims to value highly – in direct opposition to the Older Persons Act and its regulations.”

Echo Foundation’s 185-bed frail care home, Munro Kirk, was also short-paid R32000 on its subsidy, according to chief executive Tony Keen.

“The department has twice since April unilaterally decided to underpay the subsidy by about 28% [with] no communications beforehand and no explanations,” Keen said.

Levina Nel, of Erica Centre Old Age Home in Cradock, said she anticipated staff cuts and homes being forced to close due to government reductions in subsidies to frail care homes in the province. “We have 68 people that we are taking care of here at our home and 90% of them require constant professional attention. We actually need more staff members than we currently have but if these cuts go ahead we will not afford salaries of all our staff members.”

Nel said retrenchments in Cradock would have a devastating effect on the small town community where unemployment was already rife.

Typically, the government subsidy for a frail pensioner accommodated by a welfare NPO is a maximum of R1700 a month. But even when combined with the R900 which the pensioner pays, the funds fall vastly short of the approximate R7000 total bill racked up by the home. Private donations cover the difference.

Adding financial pressure is that the state has only once in five years increased payments to the homes, despite the rising cost of living.

National welfare body Nawongo, currently locked in a court battle with the Free State government over the constitutionality of the government paying NPO welfare bodies less than a third for doing the same work as state institutions, says the crisis gripping the Eastern Cape can only be resolved in court. This was relayed last week by Nawongo Free State head Willem Botha at a meeting in the Bay of about 20 NPO welfare bodies from around the province, held in the Bay.

The Eastern Cape Welfare and Social Service Development Forum, which represents more than 100 welfare NPOs, said many homes were already struggling to get by before the recent funding cuts.

“It’s bad enough [the department] cutting funding, but there’s been no warning. For two months, homes have been going ahead as usual, thinking they would get their funding. Now we see we won’t be paid back,” said forum chairperson John Allen.

For some, like the Bay’s Mothwa Haven in North End, the financial struggle was just too much. The haven, which housed 40 frail and elderly residents, closed last year citing a lack of government funding which did not “meet the required income needed to cover daily running costs”.

Department spokesperson Gcobani Maswana said R91.1-million had been allocated to fund 235 service centres, 54 old age homes and four social work agencies.

NGOs whose subsidies were cut had been given back-pay.

Additional reporting by Mkhululi Ndamase and Lee-Anne Butler

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