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By Lunga Simelane


Another ‘Life Esidimeni’ feared as govt closes care centre, plans to move 72 patients

Executive director, Sithole Joseph Letlala, the GDSD gave them short notice to “fold” and stop operating, leaving 50 staffers unemployed.

After 17 years of operating, the Tswelopele Frail Care Centre will be closing its doors at the end of the month, leaving 72 frail care and disabled patients with no access to proper nursing care.

According to the executive director, Sithole Joseph Letlala, the Gauteng department of social development (GDSD) had implemented an action plan to move the vulnerable beneficiaries and they would be dispersed across various centres in Johannesburg. Letlala said the department gave them short notice to “fold” and stop operating – which would also leave more than 50 staff members unemployed.

“We have loved this facility all these years; we deserve to be given [enough] time as this was short notice and not planned out properly,” he said.

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Letlala said the department claimed Tswelopele was not “suitable” and its mandate was to move beneficiaries to a safe place. It would be able to identify where to place them. He said the irony was the organisation was able to find buildings which would be fit to move into, but they did not have funds and the department had already failed to assist before.

“The building is still licensed and compliant according to the bylaws,” he said. “So, basically, what would happen to the facility and the staff that will be left unemployed is none of their business and the 16 years of partnership we had is now over.”

Letlala said Tswelopele received a subsidy from the department but, when the organisation applied for a bailout in 2019 to deal with a crisis, the department did not respond.

“When we applied for a bailout, they should have indicated whether they were able to help us or not and now we owe rental fees and we are told the facility will shut down. I find this totally unfair,” he said.

“The GDSD received monthly reports and monthly claim forms from Tswelopele but has never once tried to intervene or assist with financial challenges.”

The care centre, based in Hillbrow, Joburg, provides 24-hour residential frail care, social work services and safety beds. It also offered opportunities for auxiliary nursing and social work for final-year students.

While the moving of patients was already in question as health facilities are already struggling, Democratic Alliance’s Gauteng spokesperson for social development Bronwynn Engelbrecht said the party would continue to monitor where the vulnerable and disabled patients will be relocated.

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“We want to ensure that the Life Esidimeni tragedy, where 144 patients died due to the government’s negligence, does not happen again,” she said.

These were patients who were hurriedly transferred to ill-equipped and unlicensed NGOs in what was known as the Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project, as the Gauteng department of health terminated its contract with medical services provider, Life Esidimeni.

In 2015 Witnesses had testified that due to process not followed, and the rushed move owing to political pressure, officials knew the NGOs were not ready for patients but plans went ahead despite warnings from various sectors of society, concerned family members and health officials.

The GDSD did not respond to requests for comment.

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