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HEALTHCARE CRISIS

‘They are kept like animals’: Psychiatric patients suffer in dismal conditions at Charlotte Maxeke hospital

‘They are kept like animals’: Psychiatric patients suffer in dismal conditions at Charlotte Maxeke hospital
Psychiatric patients being kept in Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital's Emergency Department in Johannesburg are being kept in unsuitable conditions. (Photo: Supplied)

With October being Mental Health Awareness Month, the spotlight falls on the state of mental health services. In Joburg, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital is in a state of crisis, with psychiatric patients being kept in untenable conditions.

Ward 161 at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital previously housed patients in need of emergency care, but for the past couple of months, it has been home to 30 psychiatric patients who are reportedly being kept in deplorable conditions.

A well-placed source informed Daily Maverick that patients are suffering as the hospital battles to cope with an influx of people in need of mental healthcare. 

Conditions apparently deteriorated after the hospital began admitting patients in the wake of the Life Esidimeni tragedy in 2015. 

Eight years ago, 144 psychiatric patients who were receiving care at Life Esidimeni’s psychiatric facilities across Gauteng died from starvation and neglect following a botched project to transfer patients to ill-equipped NGOs. The tragedy resulted in 1,500 state patients being removed from facilities run by private healthcare providers and being placed in government hospitals.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Looking back on Life Esidimeni – ‘Mental health still comes last in healthcare’

Charlotte Maxeke hospital has a dedicated psychiatric ward, but there are no empty beds. This has forced the hospital to make alternative arrangements by accommodating patients in the emergency department.

According to the source, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation by the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), the patients are being kept in an open area in an emergency department ward.

There is little to no privacy, with hospital beds haphazardly placed in the ward’s main room and pushed against the walls in the hallway. The patients don’t have access to ward bathrooms and are forced to use the public facilities near the emergency department’s waiting area, but only when accompanied by nurses or security.

psychiatric patients charlotte maxeke

Psychiatric patients at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital’s Emergency Department in Johannesburg are being held in unsuitable conditions. (Photo: Supplied)

“Maybe once or twice a day, the patients are taken to the bathroom by a nurse or security guard. If they have to use the bathroom between those times, they either relieve themselves on the floor or go in a plastic bottle. [The] patients are being kept like animals. It’s terrible,” the source said.

Daily Maverick visited the hospital on 13 October to verify the conditions under which the psychiatric patients were being treated.

White burglar bars are installed on the windows of Ward 161, which is protected by two security guards. Looking in from the outside, we saw patients roaming around the dimly lit ward. Some were lying in full view on gurneys in the hallway. 

From what we could see, the patients appeared to be heavily medicated and were dressed in what appeared to be dirty pyjamas. One patient in particular stood out, with what looked like fresh blood on the front of his hospital gown.

Beyond the deteriorating conditions in which the patients are kept, the source also told Daily Maverick that the situation is unsafe for staff and patients alike.

psychiatric patients charlotte maxeke

A psychiatric patient punched a wall in ward 161 at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg. (Photo: Supplied)

“There was an incident where a patient lost his temper and attacked a nurse. The situation escalated, and the patient ended up punching the wall.

“The problem is not with the hospital administration… They are doing the best with what they have. We have sent requests for help to the department but have received no response,”

The source said the situation was not restricted to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, but that similar issues were plaguing other government facilities in Johannesburg, including Helen Joseph Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

GDoH is aware of the situation, with multiple members of staff penning letters asking for help. The department has reportedly not responded to these requests.

Daily Maverick asked the health department for comment, but there was no response by the time of publication. Charlotte Maxeke hospital also failed to respond to requests for comment. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wilhelm Boshoff says:

    Everything is broken.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Well done ANC.

    I hope you are proud.

    …because no one else is.

  • Dan Bowskill says:

    There is just nothing that this government can do right. They are the biggest cause of all this country’s many troubles.

  • Jennifer D says:

    How can this actually happen in every single government function? These were fantastic, well run hospitals – not to mention all the other failing government functions. How can so many people fail so abysmally. I don’t think it is about a lack of ability, it’s about a complete lack of care, or concern, which is way worse. Even if one doesn’t know how to do a particular job, with will and determination, anyone can learn a role. Here we sit with almost three times the number of people and none of them have the inclination to try to do the job. There are so few functioning government departments it is a shock if anything at all works. What an embarrassment.
    If the government insists on BBEEE then it should also insist on performance.

  • Annie Conway says:

    And the anc want to take on the whole caboodle when they can’t manage 1 ward?

  • Louise Louise says:

    It’s a crime against humanity, it’s an utter disgrace. Who can speak for these mentally ill patients? It seems pointless petitioning the government department.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    “The problem is not with the hospital administration… They are doing the best with what they have…

    But they have a vote and the opportunity to use that vote every 4 years.

    People apparently have the intelligence to get a job in a hospital but don’t have the intelligence to understand how a democracy works?

    The problems could be solved as fast as you can say “Cape Town”.

    Yes, the ANC is the problem, but the ANC problem is cause by it’s supporters. Until the majority of SA citizens WAKE UP and realise that they can vote for changem we will all have to suffer together.

    If only they could get over this irrational fear of the “Wit Gevaar” and realise that the bad old days are over, the struggle is over, the world has moved on and SA is still stuck in race politics.

    • David Franklin says:

      There are several reasons why the ANC still gets the majority vote, and none of them are anything to do with irrational fear or lack of intelligence.
      First, many ANC “supporters” aren’t alive anymore – but they still have legal existence so that people can get grants they are not entitled to. Considering how low grants are, how many people are unemployed, and how high prices are, it’s understandable that there many ghost citizens.
      Second, many ANC “supporters” vote more than once. Send in a bus, round up people and “encourage” them how to vote, then take them to another voting station…
      Third, if a ward votes the ANC out, and an opposition coalition takes charge, the ANC finds a way to break that coalition and get back into power – what do you think they do to “traitors”?
      Fourth, voter turnout is very low indeed – why bother voting when nothing changes?
      Fifth, do you really think that a party that has systematically looted every institution it can is above manipulating the results in their favour?
      The ANC will never be removed by the ballot box.
      Stop thinking that “they” are fundamentally different than you.

    • David Franklin says:

      Your comment been automatically approved.

      There are several reasons why the ANC still gets the majority vote, and none of them are anything to do with irrational fear or lack of intelligence.
      First, many ANC “supporters” aren’t alive anymore – but they still have legal existence so that people can get grants they are not entitled to. Considering how low grants are, how many people are unemployed, and how high prices are, it’s understandable that there many ghost citizens.
      Second, many ANC “supporters” vote more than once. Send in a bus, round up people and “encourage” them how to vote, then take them to another voting station…
      Third, if a ward votes the ANC out, and an opposition coalition takes charge, the ANC finds a way to break that coalition and get back into power – what do you think they do to “traitors”?
      Fourth, voter turnout is very low indeed – why bother voting when nothing changes?
      Fifth, do you really think that a party that has systematically looted every institution it can is above manipulating the results in their favour?
      The ANC will never be removed by the ballot box.
      Stop thinking that “they” are fundamentally different than you.

    • David Franklin says:

      I have a psychiatric disorder, and spent many years as a government patient because I didn’t have the necessary income for medical aid. It’s difficult to get a job with a psychiatric diagnosis.
      Yes, it’s discrimination. Yes, it’s illegal. No, it won’t stop anytime soon.
      I am very grateful to those employers who have given me a break and allowed me to get my life back on track.
      I’ve been in several state psychiatric facilities. I’ve also been in emergency care areas of hospitals because there was no room in the psych wards. This sort of thing is neither new nor the exception.
      About three years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in a state psychiatric ward, and the taps and basin in the male bathroom were broken off the wall. They had not been replaced.
      The only way any of us guys could drink was to borrow the one 500ml plastic bottle we all shared, go to the toilet, flush it, and collect the “clean” water flushing into the toilet.

  • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

    What is happening/has happened regarding accountability for Life Esidemeni? Anything at all? Anyone convicted?

  • Mari Bekker says:

    This paragraph is ambiguous and creates a factually incorrect idea:
    Eight years ago, 144 psychiatric patients who were receiving care at Life Esidimeni’s psychiatric facilities across Gauteng died from starvation and neglect. The tragedy resulted in 1,500 state patients being removed from facilities run by private healthcare providers and being placed in government hospitals.
    They did not die at Life Esidimeni!

    Around 1500 patients were removed from Life Esidimeni’s psychiatric facilities and placed in private NGOs (in the care of people not trained for the task and in facilities not equipped for the patients’ needs). At these NGOs a large number patients died of starvation and neglect. Thereafter the remaining (surviving) patients were removed from these NGOs and placed in government hospitals.

  • Sadly that’s the case across the country…it’s very sad to see one’s loved ones undergoing what amounts to Medieval psychiatric treatment-mental health care for state patients is non existent…same old story- health is for the rich!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Now we know what we ALL can expect if our fools in government have the NHI in place. Mrs Mahlangu is still not in jail for contributing to the death of those 144.

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