The deadline for the Department of Social Development to respond to an ultimatum to extend Life Healthcare’s contract to run the only two fully state-funded frail care centres in Port Elizabeth expires at 3pm today.
Algoa and Lorraine Frail Care, run by Life Healthcare, will close their doors on December 31 after the group was told the department could not afford the service.
Legal Aid SA is representing the patients in frail care and their families in their fight against the imminent closure and the hasty hand-over of patients to non-government organisations (NGOs).
If the department does not extend Life Healthcare’s contract, lawyers from Legal Aid SA will apply for an interdict to force it to.
The lawyers sent a letter of demand to department head Stanley Khanyile on Friday last week, giving him a week to respond.
For the past week, senior officials at the department have refused to answer questions on who will be taking over the care of the 240 patients at the two centres.
When state psychiatric patients were removed from Life Healthcare centres in Gauteng earlier this year and placed in the care of NGOs, 36 died and several are still missing.
Algoa Bay Council for the Aged director Maureen Andreka said her e-mails seeking clarity had been ignored. Meanwhile, the DA’s Bobby Stevenson submitted questions for written reply to Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi.
According to official parliamentary procedure, he said, these questions must be answered within 15 working days.
The questions were to be published today, but as the legislature is closing, Stevenson said he expected answers by the middle of next month.
He said his questions dealt with the very expensive tender the department put out for the two frail care centres.
This follows Life Healthcare services operations executive Dr Nilesh Patel saying he had been surprised when the department put out a high-priced tender for frail care at the two centres for last year and this year.
Patel said cheaper contract prices had been offered to the department twice, but nothing had been heard in reply.
Stevenson said: “The whole issue of the provincial government accepting a tender at a higher price when the company is on record saying it can do it at a lower price runs completely against the grain of financial management.
“The way in which the whole process has been conducted defies rationality. [So] I want answers.”
Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said a document concerning the frail care patients’ medical needs had also not been finalised.