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Retrenched psychiatric clinic workers to strike

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Worker clam a patient nearly died after they were prescribed the wrong medication. Another patient died in hospital while struggling to breath after contracting pneumonia. He was heavily sedated and his lungs collapsed.

Careline Psychiatric Clinic

GENERAL workers at the Careline Psychiatric Clinic intend to embark on a strike after their contracts were terminated last week

The eight general workers and caregivers stated that this was due to cost containment measures, where laundry, kitchen and cleaning services would be outsourced.

The Department of Labour in March issued a notice of non-compliance regarding the basic conditions of employment with respect to overtime pay, annual leave, information regarding remuneration, calculation of remuneration and wages.

At the time of going to press, the Department of Labour did not confirm whether this order has since been complied with or if the matter was referred to the Labour Court.

Correspondence was also sent to the national Department of Labour by employees, expressing frustration at unresolved labour-related problems.

“We have reached a dead end. This is a desperate appeal to you and we are pleading for assistance. The problems we have been experiencing for the past two years include no overtime payment for working on Sundays and public holidays.

“We are paid R2 800 per month and have not had an increase since 2015. There is no danger allowance, despite the hazardous environment we work in. Our grievances have been lying idle for just under two years and they are shifting the blame at that department.”

The affected workers said they were prevented from entering the premises to collect their belongings last week, while some were escorted into the building by security.

“We were treated like thieves.”

They claimed that they were victimised for trying to join a union and that pay was deducted when they were booked off sick.

The workers added that men, women, children and adolescents were placed in a common ward.

“We once found two men lying on top of each other in one bed while a couple were permitted to sleep in the same ward.

“Even though it was against the law, caregivers administered medication, injections and sedation when the nurses walked out, also because of the non-payment of overtime.”

Workers claimed that patients were heavily sedated and kept for a minimum of 21 days even if they were ready to be discharged or their medical aids had been exhausted.

“One patient nearly died after they were prescribed the wrong medication. Another patient died in hospital while struggling to breath after contracting pneumonia. He was heavily sedated and his lungs collapsed.”

They said the oxygen cylinders were empty and patients had to be referred to Gariep Hospital.

They also complained about a lack of security, where alcohol, drugs and needles were being carried into the premises for use by patients.

“One patient ended up in the intensive care unit after a suicidal patient injected him with morphine.”

Client services clinician at Careline Psychiatric Clinic, Natalie Visagie, said the decision to outsource services to locally-based companies was not taken lightly.

“There were extensive discussions and interactions, including meetings involving the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, employees and representative union Nehawu.”

Visagie stated that every effort would be taken to encourage them to consider employing the retrenched employees.

She added that the number of possible retrenchments were reduced from 15 to eight jobs.

“Workers were informed about the retrenchment process in June. This is still regrettable but totally unavoidable and dictated by operational imperatives and the need to sustainably manage financial resources. The sustainability of 70 jobs will be jeopardised by the failure to restructure.”

Visage stated that the eight retrenched employees would receive their full salaries until the end of the month.

“During this period, Careline Clinic management decided they are not expected to come to work whilst they seek alternative work, including interactions with current outsourced service providers.”

She added that no employee was denied entry into the hospital, which is a public institution

“The eight employees have neither been interdicted nor found guilty of theft. Any employee can join a union of their choice.”

She indicated that since the first patient was admitted in 2015, there was an occupancy average of 30 percent.

“Outsourcing food and cleaning services has paired Careline Clinic with well resourced partners who are investing in improved quality of food and cleaning services. This allows Careline Clinic to focus on the core activity of caring for our patients.”

She explained that employees signed an all-inclusive salary package.

“Changing this contract would lead to employees earning less than the all-inclusive package. We engaged the Labour Department on this matter and await feedback.”

Visage pointed out that there were currently no operational requirements for overtime.

She said that all patients were well looked after and that patients were not allowed into each other’s bedrooms.

“There is no patient who is at risk of rape by another patient under our watch. The infrastructure of the hospital allows for male and female patients to be admitted to the same 24-bed or 20-bed ward.

“Our patients and our staff know that it is against hospital policy for patients to share a bed and sexual relations are not permitted.

“We are not aware of any situation where the ward protocol was not followed.”

Visage stated that it was not within the scope of practice of caregivers to administer medication, injections and sedation.

“Their function is to care for the patients and rendering assistance with their basic needs only where it is required.”

She added that a multidisciplinary team, consisting of a psychiatrist, psychologist and occupational therapist, nurse and at times the social worker, determined the duration of a patient’s stay at the hospital.

“The psychiatrists and medical officers at Careline Clinic are well qualified and only use evidence-based practices, including prescribing practices. We are certainly not aware of ‘undue sedation’.”

Visage pointed out that it was not normal practice to give oxygen to mentally ill patients.

“If it does become necessary, the patient is usually transferred to a medical ward for management.”

She said only one patient had died at the hospital, due to natural causes.

“We are not aware of any allegations of negligence against Careline Clinic.”

She stated that body and luggage searches were conducted on all patients upon admission.

“Any sharp objects found are locked away at the nursing station for the duration of the patient’s stay. Furthermore the rooms, patients and belongings are searched randomly.

“Packages from visitors are also searched before entering the wards.”

Visagie indicated that any patient found in possession of or using substances on the premises would be discharged immediately.