Former senior health official admits Life Esidimeni project was ‘rushed’

The former senior healthcare official said that proper inspections were not done to determine if the facilities could accommodate the patients.

The inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy resumed at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Hanna Jacobus, the former deputy director within the mental health directorate at the Gauteng Department of Health, has taken to the witness stand to be cross-examined. Jacobus is responsible for the NGOs in Gauteng where over 140 mentally ill patients died.

The mandate of the hearings is to investigate who, if anyone, should be held criminally liable for the deaths of the patients. The deaths occurred after the patients were moved to ill-equipped NGOs in 2016.

In February 2016, the Gauteng Department of Health extended the contract with Life Esidimeni for a further three months but stated that all mental healthcare users (MHCU) would be transferred out of the facility by the end of June that year. In that period, the patients (with varying needs and diagnoses) were transferred to NGOs and hospitals around Gauteng.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution, which was overseen by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, discovered in 2017 that patients had been transferred to illegal NGOs with fraudulent licenses.

ALSO READ: Life Esidimeni inquest shows why ‘mental health must be taken seriously’

It was found that these NGOs were unprepared for the capacity of patients they had received. Some allegedly had no adequate access to food, water, medication, blankets or services from staff members.

During the cross-examination, Jacobus told Judge Mmonoa Teffo that proper inspections were not done to determine the readiness of the facilities to accommodate the patients.

She said the reason for this is that she was not informed on time about the closure of Life Esidimeni. “The timeframe wasn’t sufficient. We needed more time,” she said.

The former deputy director said the inspections that were conducted simply included checking the building itself, looking at the surroundings of the buildings, analysing the beds and whether the kitchen space was big enough to accommodate the number of patients.

During the inquest in 2018, Jacobus told the court that she disregarded the legal processes when licensing NGOs for the project. She claimed she had been forced to do so by her former boss, Dr Makgabo Manamela.

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