15 nurses infected, union says as standoff at clinic intensifies

The health district office in Conyngham Road, Parsons Hill has been closed after four staff members tested positive for Covid-19. The office is expected to open on Monday
SERVICE ON HOLD: The health district office in Conyngham Road, Parsons Hill has been closed after four staff members tested positive for Covid-19. The office is expected to open on Monday
Image: EUGENE COETZEE

A lengthy standoff at the Motherwell Community Health Centre, which has resulted in hundreds of patients being turned away, intensified on Friday when union Nehawu  said 15 nurses at the facility had tested positive for Covid-19.

Health officials could not immediately verify the number of infections at the centre, a day clinic that serves thousands of people from 10 wards in the township.  

But officials  did confirm that the  department’s district health office had also been temporarily closed after several staff members there  tested positive for the coronavirus.

As the pandemic spreads in SA, the cracks have been showing at some of the Bays  public hospitals, with staff involved in numerous protests over issues such as lack of protective clothing, the refusal of managers to allow them to be tested and overtime pay.

A large group of patients, some elderly and frail, gathered at the Motherwell  Community Health Centre gate on Friday morning, some seeking treatment while others were there to collect their chronic medication.

Some of the patients eventually gave up when they received no assistance from staff —  who were wearing full personal protective equipment — and who were gathered on the other side of the gate.

Nehawu regional secretary Sweetness Stokwe told Weekend Post that 15 of the union’s members at the clinic had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Some of the protesting nurses were demanding that they, too, be tested for Covid-19 — which was among their demands at the beginning of the month,  when services at the clinic were first disrupted.  

A blind 81-year-old woman who had taken a taxi from the NU29 area was among the patients turned away on Friday.

“It’s not easy coming here and to not receive any assistance in getting the medication I need for my eyes is just heartbreaking,” she said.

“I woke up early to get here and granted I’m a week late in fetching my medication [but] the least they could’ve done was take our books and give us our treatment over the fence,” the woman, who declined to give her name, said.

On June 5, The Herald reported that no patients had been allowed into the  centre since June 1, with staff saying a colleague had contracted Covid-19 and they could not risk working because they did not have personal protective equipment.

Stokwe said  on Friday the clinic’s staff had not been performing their duties for the past two weeks while they demanded to be tested.

“People are demanding to be tested and until that happens, they say they will not work.

“The department should prioritise members who’ve come into contact with those who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 because by not doing so, the department of health is risking the lives of people who these nurses and doctors treat on a daily basis,” Stokwe said.

Eastern Cape health spokesperson Siyanda Manana said the department was aware of the ongoing issues at the centre.

“The department of health did not close the clinic, the nurses decided not to open it. 

“Discussions are ongoing with staff and we’ll announce the outcomes in due course.

“There is a forum where unions and hospital management sit.

“In each and every institution where workers meet with management, we hope in that kind of engagement, both would be able to find each other,” Manana said.

On the situation at the district health office,  Manana said  it was closed on Friday and  that it was expected to reopen on Monday.

“Four staff members [tested] positive. [The office was] decontaminated yesterday [Thursday]. Staff will be at work on Monday,” Manana said.

At Livingstone Hospital, staffers went on a go-slow earlier this month and cleaners refused to work, while patients were turned away at the casualty ward, but the situation appeared to normalise later.

By Monday, work at the Korsten hospital returned to normal after an intervention by Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha, who visited the hospital a week ago alongside the union’s provincial and regional leadership.

Clinics in KwaNobuhle remained closed, with patients also being turned away at the gate by security guards.

On Thursday, Uitenhage Provincial hospital acting CEO Jannes Moolman handed in a letter saying he would be stepping down from the position.

The department of health did not immediately accept his resignation.

Moolman’s decision followed a Covid-19 related death on Tuesday of a staff members at the hospital. 

Manana said the district health office had seconded Dr Lulekwa Mayekiso as the hospital’s acting CEO.

“Dr Moolman has returned to his original post. Dr Moolman submitted a letter indicating that he is no longer able to act citing personal reasons,” he said.

The metro has been  identified as a Covid-19 hotspot in the province and with 3,492 cases as at Wednesday, it has the most cases in the Eastern Cape.

So far, 1,601 people have recovered while 86 have died.

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