IN PICTURES | Tembisa Hospital CEO pained by slurs and accusations, opens up

14 August 2020 - 08:47 By Kgaugelo Masweneng and Shonisani Tshikalange
Inside the much criticised tents initially used for Covid-19 intervention at Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital.
Inside the much criticised tents initially used for Covid-19 intervention at Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital.
Image: Emile Bosch/ TimesLIVE

Tembisa Hospital CEO Dr Lekopane Mogaladi juggles management of staff and resources at a state facility where demand from the public outstrips capacity, with “cruel” slurs lobbied at a team he says is dedicated to helping the poor.

He opened the doors to the hospital to TimesLIVE this week, and spoke about recent allegations embroiling the facility.

Despite the trash being thrown at the hospital, the poor will always need us and we are here, doing our best
Dr Lekopane Mogaladi

In November and December last year, as many as 17 babies contracted klebsiella at the Tembisa Hospital. Ten of them would die.

Just as the facility, in Ekurhuleni, started to get back on track after the outbreak, it was called into action to aggressively respond to the coronavirus pandemic - and this in Gauteng, the country's Covid-19 epicentre. Limited resources had to be stretched to respond to the crisis.

The hospital was then thrust into a social media scandal in June after a Covid-19 patient, Shonisani Lethole, died just days after tweeting health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize to complain that he was starving, having allegedly not been fed for 48 hours. While an official report is awaited, it has emerged that the patient's claim was untrue. The Sunday Independent reported Lethole was served hospital food but wrote his tweet out of anger because he was denied having the Nando's takeaway which was brought to him by a family member.

Mogaladi said it was “very stressful because you do not want to preside over an institution that is actually perceived as being [a] killer or being indifferent to the welfare of society”.

He said the biggest, most consistent, problem was that demand for service outstripped the hospital's capacity.

It is the only hospital in north Ekurhuleni, and services a population of 1.2-million. It has a bed capacity of 840, and 2,050 staff. It is largely surrounded by informal settlements.

Nurses at the Tembisa Hospital where currently 33 Covid-19 patients are admitted. The ward is called the "dirty area".
Nurses at the Tembisa Hospital where currently 33 Covid-19 patients are admitted. The ward is called the "dirty area".
Image: Emile Bosch/ TimesLIVE

The hospital has had to repurpose wards and add tents to create a capacity of 192 beds for Covid-19.  

Another challenge is medical waste disposal. When TimesLIVE visited the hospital on Wednesday, there were boxes stacked in some areas of the hospital.

However, all the new and temporary areas have sufficient oxygen supply.

Another of the challenges, the CEO said, was around delays in obtaining Covid-19 results from labs, as they do not test on site. Attending to a high number of non-Covid patients also puts pressure on the existing infrastructure.

“I actually pep talk my staff and tell them that this, too, shall pass. But it has been very stressful,” said Mogaladi.

“I think one of my biggest stresses has been our lack of space, especially in the accident and emergency ward. There are only a certain number of patients that we can take, and when the demand outstrips the capacity you find yourself in a dilemma.”

Nurses at Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital at the Covid-19 ward.
Nurses at Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital at the Covid-19 ward.
Image: Emile Bosch/ TimesLIVE

He said that though there had been a lot of challenges, some have helped highlight the hospital's plight.

“It has actually been very tough. After the disaster declaration in March, we made a minor preparation for area isolation in casualty, while we had one area for ventilation. Some of the complicated or very serious patients were transferred to Steve Biko Hospital.

“In terms of our structural intervention, it was a very slow process. We were going slowly but unfortunately in June numbers [of patients] were shooting up to an extent that we had to close the trauma section of casualty, where most of the patients were. It was very hectic. It put a strain on everybody,” Mogaladi said.

Members of the public are sanitised before entering the Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital on Wednesday.
Members of the public are sanitised before entering the Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital on Wednesday.
Image: Emile Bosch/ TimesLIVE

As of Wednesday, the hospital was caring for 33 Covid-19 patients, 81% of whom are between the ages of 51 and 80. According to the hospital management, they have enough PPE.

Mogaladi also highlighted the difficulties the hospital was facing due to the regulation that no visitors were allowed.

“People call all the time to try to get information on their relatives. A phone call by its very nature is very unfortunate. All I could say is that she is doing well. We must actually do a confirmation [of who is calling] because if I divulge the status of your family member over the phone, how do I know and confirm that the person inquiring is actually the relative?

“That was one of the shortcomings that we had, but we have since established a line where they call in and their names get written down. A nurse or a doctor, somebody who is allocated for a specific discipline, will look at those various cases and be able to respond appropriately,” he said.

The hospital has tents in its yard where they test suspected Covid-19 patients; these tents raised discomfort for some people who complained that they had to sleep on the floors at some point.

“We can’t deny that we were overwhelmed. But the situation has since improved,” said Mogaladi.

A 23-year-old woman from Tembisa told TimesLIVE that her grandmother would have been buried without the family’s knowledge after succumbing to pneumonia at the hospital in June.

When the family went to the hospital on June 29 to fetch the body of her 87-year-old grandmother, she claims they were met by her body inside a coffin ready to be taken for burial. They did not know where the body was being taken to.

“She was going to be buried like all those people who have no family members,” she said.

Mogaladi disputed the allegations, and said they were disheartening.

“That's not true, we have our own protocol. We have a standard operative procedure for identification of patients and procedure.

“We have a serious protocol. No deceased is placed in a coffin, especially after 24 hours, and there is nothing of that nature. We do not have stored coffins the hospital. When paupers come to fetch bodies they come with their own coffins.

“The issue of the lady is a very sensitive matter and she raised it on Facebook, but it is very difficult to talk about a sensitive matter like death on Facebook and respond to it. We could not be that insensitive, what we could do is to invite the lady and explain to her that what she is saying is not true,” he said.

Mogaladi added that one of the most unfortunate things about working in public health care “is that there will be a flurry of allegations thrown at you and you think one of the cruel things we have learnt as health workers and managers is to accept everything that is thrown at us”.

“Despite the trash being thrown at the hospital, the poor will always need us and we are here. Death is unfortunate and none of us come here to kill people.

“Our staff are doing their best. They are all affected by the bad image the hospital has. Some of them were breaking down when the Shonisani matter happened,” he added.  

TimesLIVE

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