Debt, questionable tenders and mismanagement beset Durban mental health facility
Office politics, financial mismanagement and poor planning are at the heart of the challenges faced by the Durban and Coastal Mental Health, an organisation that caters to more than 60,000 patients in Durban.
This comes after recent reports about the dire conditions that patients are living under in some of the facilities being run by the organisation, which has been in existence since 1940. However, the board and management are crying foul, claiming they are aware of the challenges and have plans in place to rectify them.
Sthandiwe Mkhize, the new chairperson of Durban and Coastal Mental Health (DCMH), has received a baptism of fire after being appointed to the position.
For the past two months, he has been trying to deal with the problems that are said to have been left after the previous chairperson, Sipho Shezi, was expelled after being accused of mismanagement.
The ousting came after numerous discrepancies were found in the running of the organisation.
Among these was the questionable issuing of tenders that went out to various companies, including a security tender that was introduced after there were safety concerns in residential homes, such as the one in Sherwood.
Mkhize was first elected to the board in September 2019 after there were concerns about a lack of transformation in the board.
“We have inherited huge problems,” said Mkhize. He claimed the current board and management are trying their best to turn the situation at the facility around, but they have a lot on their hands.
DCMH is drowning in debt, since it owes millions to service providers.
According to the current chief financial officer, Fafie Mckenzie, the financial state of the organisation leaves much to be desired and makes it difficult for those trying to serve the people who depend on the organisation.
Before becoming CFO McKenzie was an auditor and was asked to audit the finances of the organisation in 2019. This is where he found many red flags, especially in the way the finances were being handled.
For example, he questioned the payment of service providers, including Usuthu, a security company. According to him the service provider was appointed by Shezi, and was being paid an inconsistent amount.
And – unlike any other service provider – it was being paid regularly.
He said one of the issues that stood out was that the service providers had no service-level agreements or contracts with the organisation. With some it wasn’t even known how much they were supposed to be paid on a monthly basis or after a service was provided.
Mckenzie said the move to change the board was a good one, because having a board serving an organisation for more than 20 years without change breeds an opportunity for corruption. However, nothing prepared the organisation for the corruption that accompanied the change.
DCMH CEO Lungisani Mthiyane explained how the board change in 2019 ushered in a new dawn for the organisation. This came after complaints that the board needed to be transformed. The concerns about this were heightened after allegations of rape among patients.
“The board ended up being challenged because the staff members were not happy with the way the organisation was being run. The staff were not consulted in many things (that were happening). The service provided to mental health users was affected as there was always denial about some of the things that were happening. For example, if there was an alleged rape case all they needed to say was, yes there is one. However, they didn’t do that. They would just cover it up. They created more media attention and that forced government departments to intervene,” said Mthiyane.
This meant that a change was needed and new blood had to be shipped in – “it had nothing to do with race”.
Unfortunately, at this point most of the funders left, leaving only the departments of Health and Social Development.
Mckenzie said that changing the board led to more problems than the organisation had anticipated, and to a situation where the organisation turned into a one-man show.
According to him, in 2019 the organisation allegedly had R2.2-million in liabilities, largely due to service providers not being paid. By the time the previous board chairperson had been expelled and the financial controller suspended, liabilities had skyrocketed to more than R10-million, “of which the greater part is Usuthu”.
He added that the organisation is not taking the matter lying down.
They are fighting some of the service providers as they have overcharged and have no service agreements – “they need to understand that the era of looting has gone”.
Mkhize, the new chairperson, said it is unfortunate that when they are trying to fix the state of the organisation ,there has been bad publicity.
However, he claimed that even though the situation is not desirable, no harm has come to those who depend on its services.
He said plans are in place to save the overwhelmed organisation. One of the steps taken had been appointing a CFO, who was qualified. The organisation was also trying to get more funders on board, while it was using some of the land it owned to plant food.
But while Mkhize and his team are confident they are on the right path, the problem of old buildings remains.
“Some of our buildings are old and need a lot of work. We hope that we can get support and bring in new funders. The idea is to get everyone to work together,” he said.
Their priorities were clear and they were concerned more about the betterment of patients’ lives.
At the Sherwood facility – one of many in at least 14 districts – patients are oblivious to the outside world, where there are concerns about the situation they are living in.
Some are carrying on with the work they normally do – assembling earplugs for one of the companies that give the organisation work, as part of the workshop programme run by the organisation.
At the residence they interact with staff, enjoying the sunshine. However, given that the visit by Maverick Citizen was scheduled, it is not clear whether this is their way of life.
Moorina Abdul-Roaf, acting deputy director for social work and day care, said the patients are their main focus. Staff morale had suffered because of the state of the organisation, which she hoped would secure more funding to fix buildings and deal with other maintenance problems.
“We hope the community could come to our aid and offer their services – donations in kind would make a huge difference. It would be great to see people coming through to offer their services, be it skills in plumbing, maintenance or any other,” she added.
In response to the accusations against him, Shezi said he did all he could while he was chairperson from 2019 to March 2021.
However, as chairperson, it was not possible to make decisions alone.
“It’s a lie that service providers were appointed by me. The appointment of service providers is an operational matter as per the provision of the constitution. The CEO and his management will then come to the board with proposed names of the appointed service providers. We as the board will endorse the appointment of such service providers,” he explained.
He named other board members as having been responsible for appointing a company providing nursing services. He added that he had no relationship with Usuthu.
Shezi said he has heard “residents now sleep in urine-drenched beds and smelly bedrooms, meaning that services are not being provided properly”.
The reason, he said, for the dwindling services is that service providers have not been paid by the current management and board.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development has expressed concern about the situation at DCMH. Spokesperson Mhlaba Memela said they were still waiting for a report from the organisation’s management after a meeting was held with them.
A site inspection had been done and a report submitted to the head of department as well as the MEC.
“We want to assure everyone that if state money is not used for its desired purpose, people involved will indeed face the full might of the law,” he added.
The provincial health department said the social development department would comment on the matter. DM/MC