Social development’s decision to shut PE centres ‘unconscionable’, high court rules
A Port Elizabeth High Court judge, in a scathing judgment yesterday, described the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development’s decision to close Port Elizabeth’s only state-owned frail care centres as unconscionable.
Judge Elna Revelas said it had placed the lives of hundreds of patients at considerable risk.
She said the lives of some of the 239 patients at the two centres had only been saved by the goodwill of Life Healthcare, which carried on looking after them when the department could not find an NGO willing to take them.
The department’s contention that it could not afford to look after frail care patients was not an excuse.
In June last year, the department did not renew Eastern Cape Frail Care’s contract to run the two centres, Lorraine Frail Care and Algoa Frail Care.
Eastern Cape Frail Care is a subsidiary in the Life Healthcare group.
Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi had said the patients would be moved into the care of NGOs instead.
Families then formed the Frail Care Crisis Coalition to fight the decision to end the contract.
In December, Judge Phakamisa Tshiki ordered that the contract be extended and a curator, Advocate Sarah Sephton, be appointed for the patients.
He also ordered that before patients were moved, Sephton and a judge would have to agree that it was in the patients’ best interests.
Revelas has now extended this order to May next year.
She said the department’s principal concern was to cut costs as it had initially indicated that it wanted to pay only R4 000 a month a patient.
“It was pointed out that it cost the government R800 per day to keep one patient in Livingstone Hospital, also that nappies cost R1 000 a month,” she said.
She said that before turning to court, an appeal had been made to premier Phumulo Masualle, saying: “This is a disaster in the making. Lives are at stake.”
Despite this, the department had done nothing.
“If it were not for the goodwill of Life Healthcare, some patients in the centres would have died,” the judge said.
She said the department was now prepared to pay R9 000 a month for frail care, but this was still only 50% of the tariff Life Healthcare had initially been paid.
“Considering that the department has no other plan and no nonprofit organisations had responded to its advertisements, there is in effect no plan. If one is not made, some patients will die.”
Revelas said she wanted to echo the words of another judge, that this was a case about a provincial government behaving unconscionably.
“If the department insists on an unrealistic amount [to pay for patient care], it would be tantamount to shirking its constitutional obligations to the patients in question,” she said.
Revelas ordered that the department carry on the contract with Eastern Cape Frail Care, paying about R18 000 a patient until the patients were moved to an alternative facility in a safe way and with the agreement of the court.