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Hospital staff refuse to enter “death trap”


Staff refused to enter Connie Vorster Hospital in Hartswater on Wednesday morning following two apparent Covid-19-related deaths of a staff member and a patient during the past week.

Staff refused to enter the Connie Vorster Hospital in Hartswater after two patients died at the facility during the past week. Picture: Supplied

STAFF refused to enter Connie Vorster Hospital in Hartswater on Wednesday morning following two apparent Covid-19-related deaths of a staff member and a patient during the past week.

Organised labour unions Denosa, Nehawu and PSA intervened after staff members were allegedly threatened with disciplinary action and non-payment if they failed to report for duty.

The unions stated that the hospital was neither decontaminated nor closed to the public after the positive cases were reported.

PSA provincial manager Steve Ledibane said staff members were afraid of entering a “death trap”.

“The Department of Health could be held criminally liable if anyone contracts the virus due to negligence, as safety regulations were ignored,” warned Ledibane.

He stated that a nurse who was displaying Covid-19 symptoms went to the hospital on Saturday, August 1, at about 11pm, and died while waiting in the casualty unit. “Her body was only collected on Sunday, where other patients and staff may have been exposed to the virus.

“A number of staff members who share the same bathroom and frequented the same areas of the hospital have comorbidities,” added Ledibane.

He indicated that the isolation room could only accommodate one Covid-19 patient at any particular time.

“The hospital was unable to place the nurse in the isolation ward as another patient was already in the room and it is not protocol for female and male patients to share the same ward.”

He also claimed that the hospital was unable to provide any answers relating to the delay in removing the deceased from the casualty unit.

“The hospital should have the capacity for these purposes. We advised the hospital to make a contingency plan to accommodate more patients in the isolation ward, in the event of a breakout.”

Ledibane added that staff were not informed about the positive Covid-19 cases at the facility.

“Staff arrived at work and discovered that the male patient who was in the isolation ward had also passed away on Tuesday night. Despite the two deaths the facility was open as usual, where safety regulations were not followed.

“Hartswater is a Covid-19 hot spot and the necessary procedures are being overlooked to prevent the spread of infections.”

Ledibane indicated that management agreed to close the facility on Wednesday and disinfect it after representatives from the safety and health and steering committee inspected the hospital.

“Arrangements were made to transfer patients to other facilities to allow the premises to be fumigated.”

Denosa provincial organiser Vincent Phuroe said the female deceased was a member of the nursing union.

“We convey our condolences to the family,” said Phuroe.

He added that the union had been in contact with management of the hospital since Monday, calling for the facility to be decontaminated.

“The hospital was unable to disinfect the premises until all the patients were transferred on Wednesday. It was indicated that the facility would be deep-cleaned on Thursday. However, no employee should be made to return to work before the hospital is decontaminated. We will monitor the situation to assess if all protocols have been followed.”

“As Hartswater is a hot spot, we do not want workers to be unnecessarily exposed to the virus. As far as we know, close contacts were tested on Monday and were placed into self-isolation. We are awaiting the test results.”

Phuroe added that the general lack of personal protective equipment at provincial health facilities remained a concern.

DA provincial leader Andrew Louw called on the MEC for Health, Maruping Lekwene, to conduct an urgent audit on Covid-19 compliance at all provincial hospitals.

“The Connie Vorster Hospital in Hartswater shut its doors on Wednesday after staff embarked on a strike outside the facility. It is believed that staff are unhappy as the facility was not disinfected despite two recent Covid-19-related deaths, including a staff member,” said Louw.

“In addition to the matters relating to sanitising of the facility, the DA was informed that Covid-19 patients are sharing wards with general patients.

“At this advanced stage of the pandemic, basic protocols including deep-cleaning are still not in place at all health facilities. It is unthinkable that coronavirus patients are made to share wards and facilities with regular patients. We can only wonder why hospital managers are not being held accountable.”

Louw added that many hospitals throughout the Province did not have enough ventilators.

“Patients with critical conditions have to be transported to Kimberley. We know that the Province has procured a number of ventilators but we do not know where they are or where the specialised health professionals are who are meant to utilise them.”

The Department of Health did not respond to media enquiries.