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MEC shocked after unannounced visit to KZN mental health facility

19 May 2021 - 18:28 By Tania Broughton
A resident lies in a urine-soaked bed at the Durban and Coastal Mental Health's Sherwood residence. Managers have acknowledged that some service providers are unhappy. File Photo
A resident lies in a urine-soaked bed at the Durban and Coastal Mental Health's Sherwood residence. Managers have acknowledged that some service providers are unhappy. File Photo
Image: Supplied

KwaZulu-Natal social development MEC Nonhlanhla Khoza has appointed a team to help  root out problems at the embattled Durban and Coastal Mental Health (DCMH), which interfaces with more than 600,000 mentally ill people in the province every year.

This followed an unannounced visit she made along with department head Nelisiwe Vilkazi to its Sherwood residential facility which houses about 80 residents.

Last week, the residents were facing starvation after a service provider was fired by the board of management and walked off site, locking pantries and fridges. A relative of one of the residents stepped in and, through donations, has been cooking and feeding those who live there and staff.

During Wednesday’s visit, Khoza was shocked that the residents were being given bread with a potato filling.

Management said a new service provider had been appointed but could not show her any menu lists or specifications of meals to be provided.

A “potato sandwich”, she said, was not nutritious.

Khoza said she was shocked and concerned at the apparent collapse of operations.

Her department has a service agreement with DCMH in terms of which it gives funding of about R13m a year.

She said after meeting the board and management, she was concerned that it was not complying with the service-level agreement.

“It is shocking to see how the board has run the affairs in that institution. The appointment of service providers who have no contracts is one of the concerns. The institution is unable to perform its responsibility very well. It is clear that there has been mismanagement and misappropriation of funds in the institution,” she said. 

“This institution is expected to render services to the most vulnerable groups in our society. Our service users can never be treated like this. We were very disappointed by the food given to the end users in the facility.  The food given to them is not healthy. No person can eat sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. We give funding to this organisation to take care of our people. We want to ensure that their dignity is restored,” she said. 

The MEC said the board of directors is governed by the NPO Act and should be compliant with it and all other laws of the country.    

“We need to see this board having a turnaround strategy. There are unforgivable things that are taking place in this institution. We are not going to leave this matter unattended because the end users are going to suffer,” she said. 

Khoza said the financial problems in the institution needed urgent attention.

“The inefficiencies of a bloated management structure have also brought the institution to its knees. The department will be working with the board to fix the problems facing this institution. We will get to the bottom of this and ensure whoever is responsible for such maladministration and corruption faces the law,” she said. 

The department will continue providing funding to the institution to ensure that beneficiaries are not affected. However, the MEC announced that she had appointed a team to help deal with problems at the institution. 

TimesLIVE reported in November last year that a mental healthcare patient crisis was looming because the non-profit organisation was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Back then it was already R6m in the red.

A manager who did not wish to be named said on Wednesday that about three service providers were suing because their contracts had been terminated.

She said this was because they were seen to be affiliated to the former chairman, Sipho Shezi, who was either forced to step down or resigned in March this year.

He claims to be a whistle-blower who uncovered corruption, but the new board chairman  Sthandiwe Mkhize said Shezi had been “terminated” because of allegations of misconduct against him.