Maverick Citizen Eastern Cape

Contaminated laundry piles up at PE hospital, ‘horrifying’ officials

By Estelle Ellis 8 July 2020
Caption
Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

Festering laundry, mostly from Covid-19 patients, is piling up at Livingstone Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Several weeks’ worth of contaminated laundry, from patients who are Covid-19 positive, has been piling up unwashed in a storeroom at Livingstone Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay as the hospital’s laundry facility remains closed.

The Eastern Cape Department of Health’s communication director, Siyanda Manana, confirmed that the hospital’s laundry had been closed. 

“I don’t know when exactly,” he said. “Eight workers tested positive for Covid-19.”

In an internal report dated June 13, the acting CEO of the hospital, Dr Khanyisa Makamba, said that bags of linen from a service provider had to be delivered to the hospital as the laundry was closed.

Sources in the Department of Health confirmed that officials doing a safety and risk audit at the hospital found the room filled with contaminated laundry and were “absolutely horrified” and “appalled”.

The discovery came as many civil society organisations in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro raised the alarm that patients had no blankets at the hospital. In one case a patient was seen trying to cover herself with newspaper to stay warm.

Public law centre SECTION27, representing the Treatment Action Campaign and the Igazi Foundation in Nelson Mandela Bay, has written to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, and the Eastern Cape Department of Health’s superintendent-general, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, requesting an intervention at Livingstone Hospital, and to address, among other issues, the laundry problems at the hospital.

The letter raised issues about unresolved labour disputes, insufficient laundry aids and staff fears over Covid-19, saying it has led to a “complete malfunction of laundry services”.

Patients are currently advised by the hospital to bring their own laundry with them.

Ntsiki Mpulo from SECTION27 and the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition said they had not received a response to their letter that was sent a week ago. 

“Our lawyers are working on a follow-up letter.”

Manana said the hospital will outsource all laundry to dry cleaners and private contractors. 

“We will be looking at other hospitals to try and help us and relieve the burden of Livingstone Hospital,” he said. “We understand that we are going to have to move fast on this one.”

He said hospitals in the metro were under tremendous pressure. According to statistics from the Eastern Cape Department of Health on Monday 6 July, Nelson Mandela Bay had 10,442 positive cases of coronavirus, 5,424 recoveries and 136 Covid-19 related deaths.

Livingstone Hospital has been without a permanent CEO, head of clinical services and a management team since November 2018 when all six of the hospital’s senior managers were suspended following labour protests at the facility.

Last month Mbengashe admitted that the problems at Livingstone Hospital were “no way to run a hospital” and promised to send senior personnel from Bhisho to help run the facility.

Nurses have been putting patients in expensive disposable gowns as the hospital has run out of pyjamas. Manana couldn’t say how many of the 100 general assistants promised to assist at Livingstone Hospital have been hired.

“We are hiring,” he said.

But the general secretary of Nehawu, Sweetness Stokwe, said the department continues to tell lies about hiring extra staff. 

“My suggestion is that we call a Zoom meeting with all of them. Then we can really talk. We can ask them questions. We want to tell them that the reports they are getting from their managers are all lies. We are accused of only wanting to fight but it is not true. We want to help. But they must stop with the lies.” 

She said the laundry facility at Livingstone Hospital was struggling with severe staff shortages and staff were concerned about not being given the right personal protective equipment to handle laundry from Covid-19 patients.

“The ones who are there can’t cope. There are too many demands,” she said.

She said due to extreme staff shortages at the nearby Uitenhage Hospital porters had to work as mortuary assistants as well. She told of one incident where, “they took the dead body to the mortuary and then they didn’t register the right person so the family got the wrong body”.

She said the union did not support the new field hospital, providing an additional 1,485 beds, as they feared this would cause more staff shortages at the metro’s other hospitals. DM/MC

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