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Needed upgrade in the pipeline

Provincial health minister Dr Nomafrench Mbombo divulged details of a R40 million improvement plan for Helderberg Hospital during a visit last Friday (14 December).

The visit follows calls for action after recent complaints of poor service at the hospital (“Claims that poor service led to deaths”, DistrictMail, 11 October).

“We are here not to say that we have all the answers, but to say that at least something is being done,” said Mbombo, who added that the proposed plan is aimed at improving service delivery.

She said the hospital, located off Lourensford Road, is about 80 years old, acknowledging the current infrastructure presents challenges and is under severe service pressure.

Mbombo said the 181-bed facility runs up to 110% capacity. In response to service pressures, she said the bed totals were increased from 162 last February.

Other key service pressures highlighted were that monthly averages of 1 750 patients are admitted; 3 530 patients are treated at the hospital’s Emergency Centre; the out-patient department sees on average 6 250 patients; and the mental healthcare beds operate at 130% occupancy.

“There is a need for a bigger and better facility and although the new hospital, for which a site is being sought, would be ideal, the hospital is undergoing a R40 million upgrade to its Emergency Centre, which is scheduled to be completed in January 2020,” said Mbombo.

She said the upgrade will bring about:

V a better, bigger and more clearly defined waiting room;

V modern design and technology to ensure constant surveillance of patients for a safer and more user-friendly experience through an upgraded CCTV system; and

V upgrades to the overnight ward, the kangaroo care and post-natal unit, which will be operated in new buildings to be completed next June.

“The demolition and upgrade of the Emergency Centre can then be done in one process without disrupting health services,” Mbombo explained.

She added that other upgrades include those to the radiography department, wards, the current 75-year-old telephone system, which will see a telephonist appointed to attend to after-hour phone calls, patient surveillance, complaints management, patient communication and staff resilience.

“We want to assure residents that we are serious about delivering quality, person-centred healthcare, and that is why we have invested in improving the infrastructure. We are fully aware of the challenges that patients experience at this facility, but I can assure the community that once this upgrade is complete, they will have a state-of-the-art service,” said Mbombo.

When an opportunity arose to pose questions to the minister, particularly about health service-related concerns, five residents passionately stated their case. The session also saw the minister accept a letter from a resident still upset about the poor service her son fell victim to at the hospital in 2014, which resulted in his death.

Resident Andrew Arnolds said the community had to endure poor service for many years, adding that the facility’s location and promises of a new hospital compound the community’s frustrations. He demanded a new hospital be appropriately situated and professionally staffed, offering quality care and serving patients with dignity.

“If we continue to receive complaints of poor service, as in the past, it will not be tolerated. We are not going to have any more chances to do things right because people have died here,” said Arnolds.

A detailed outline of the improvement plan by Mbombo stoked some tension, with John Michels of the Grabouw Civic Organisation along with others claiming how people have died owing to poor service at the hospital.

Michels expressed his disappointment in the minister’s response for a solution.

“This is not merely about infrastructure,” said Michels before leaving the briefing. “There are short-term solutions needed to address the attitude of staff, while the long-term solution is the new hospital. If the management structure is not removed by end of January, we will make this [hospital] ungovernable.”

After the gathering, Michels took to the Facebook page he created following allegations made in October, venting his frustrations.

Another local shared her experience after she was admitted in July, emphasising the “bad and unacceptable” attitude of staff towards patients, the horrific state of bathrooms that have to be shared by both genders, sub-standard meals and a non-existent triage system. This resulted in the fed-up woman discharging herself.

A resident whose daughter, suffering from cancer and diabetes, was admitted to the hospital in June, echoed the sentiments expressed. She said: “This is what is going on in your Emergency Centre . . . We lodged a formal complaint and after investigations were complete there was temporary improvement. It appears improvement is possible, but it needs to be permanent.”

Mbombo said it is difficult to respond to each individual experience and urged patients to make use of the formal complaints system immediately.

A representative for hospital management and board members acknowledged residents’ negative experiences, attributing it to supply far exceeding demand, and sincerely apologised.

Community leader Christiaan Stewart urged hospital management to play their part and be responsive to complaints, and get rid of “rotten apples”.

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