Frail care homes inspected

Human rights commissioner in Port Elizabeth to look at embattled facilities

The South African Human Rights Commission’s Chris Nissen was in Port Elizabeth this week to inspect frail care facilities – as the saga around moving 239 patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to facilities run by non-government organisations continues.

The SAHRC has been asking Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi for her input since December, but she has ignored it.

A complaint was filed against the MEC alleging that it would be a violation of patients’ human rights to move them. The only two fully state-funded frail care centres in Port Elizabeth, Algoa Frail Care and Lorraine Frail Care, are operated by East Cape Frail Care, a subsidiary of the Life Healthcare Group under the Life Esidimeni banner.

In June the company’s contract, which expired on December 31, was not renewed.

In December, Sihlwayi said the reason for this was that the department could not afford to continue paying R18 000 per patient.

She also said she found it unfair that other elderly and frail patients were only subsidised with R1 750.

While the department has advertised extensively for NGOs and non-profit organisations to take over the care of these patients, none have yet been appointed.

Following an application for an interdict, brought in December, the department agreed to extend East Cape Frail Care’s contract until the court case was finalised. The next hearing is on May 25. The court ordered the department to file papers in this court case by March 31, but it has not.

SAHRC spokeswoman Gail Smith said they had been in touch with Sihlwayi’s office in December regarding the complaint filed against her.

“The commission wrote to the MEC on this matter prior to the matter going to court,” she said.

“She then failed to answer questions that the SAHRC put to her and there was a request today for her to talk to one of the national human rights commissioners.

“The MEC had not responded by the time that the matter went to court [in December].

“[As] the matter is now being managed by a court-appointed curator and the premier’s involvement, the commission is no longer investigating [it].

“However, we are monitoring the matter closely.”

Frail Care Crisis Collective spokesman Gerhardt Loock said the families had met on Saturday to discuss the way forward.

“We are not pushing the department to finalise the court case as they are not allowed to move patients without permission from the curator,” he said.

“I think there is an acceptance from the families that it was not sustainable for the department to keep the expensive contract going.

“We are keen to see a plan from the MEC’s office.

“As the affected families, we want to advocate for a bigger oversight role in the facilities where our loved ones will be moved.”

He said they also wanted to reach out to other NGOs running old age homes and homes for the disabled and form an alliance to improve conditions for all frail and disabled patients in the province.

Sihlwayi’s spokesman, Mzukisi Solani, said it was a “parody” to say she had ignored the SAHRC as she had been diligently observing the court injunctions.

“This court process has always been a welcome accountability process to ensure that the plan to find a new service provider for frail care is above-board,” he said.