Komani Psychiatric Hospital patients were deprived of food on Tuesday, only being served one meal during the day due to the continuous “downing of tools” by staff who claimed the institution management was gambling with their lives.
The workers’ continued refusal to work under conditions that could see them infected by Covid-19 resulted in some members of the hospital management preparing meals for patients on Wednesday, when the staff were on day 15 of the unrest.
At the centre of the staff grievances is the lack of provision of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), workers who are supposed to be in self-isolation being forced to work due to the shortage of staff which has led to more infections, and the incorporation of Covid-19 positive patients with those who have tested negative.
Nehawu branch secretary at the psychiatric institution, Silulami Mayekiso, said the “stubborn” hospital management was hell-bent on gambling with workers’ lives, while also risking the lives of the resident patients.
“The hospital deals with mentally challenged people, most of whom do not quite adhere to the Covid-19 restrictions. You find that, of the wards identified for isolation, all sorts of patients are mixed in there, whether they have Covid-19 or not, which is a serious flouting of the rules. Management refuses to test staff members in areas where someone had tested positive. They also refuse to temporarily close it for disinfection.”
Mayekiso said they decided to halt services in the hospital kitchen area as it was a small, but very important aspect of the running of the hospital.
“On Tuesday patients had their first meal at around noon, which was just bread. Normally patients would have porridge in the morning before taking their medication and then bread after that. But that was the first and last meal of the day, as ordered by management. The contract workers in the kitchen said on Wednesday they were to only cook once, and the food would be served for lunch and supper. The hospital is not sticking to the patients’ menu and diet as prescribed. This could have bad implications on some patients.”
Mayekiso said contract workers were being exploited while the permanent ones had downed tools, being forced to do the things the permanent staff refused to do.
“We already have two Covid-19 related deaths caused by the flouting of the rules, but management still refuses to test staff. We will continue with this unrest until the provincial department of health addresses our concerns. We have engaged all structures to raise our issues, but no one has assisted. The MEC for health, Sindiswa Gomba, made empty promises last time we spoke to her and the union in the province has called for her removal from office due to her failure to address issues in hospitals.”
Mayekiso said the health department was now intimidating staff by sending threatening letters to them, indicating that if they did not go back to work the no-work-no-pay rule would apply.
“We have told members not to sign the letters because we are not on strike, we are simply trying to get the attention of the higher structures of the department. They have also sent a letter of intention to charge our branch chairperson. The charges were not stipulated and we are awaiting further communication on that.”
Health department head of communications, Siyanda Manana, did not respond to questions sent to him.