We must avoid another 'Esidimeni incident'

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We must avoid another 'Esidimeni incident'

Allegations of sexual harassment, negligence at prominent Durban mental home to be probed

Lwandile Bhengu

The night before the Democratic Alliance was set to pounce on a mental health facility in Durban for an “oversight visit” to investigate allegations of sexual harassment of patients and of staff negligence, one of the patients at the facility was sexually abused.
It was a horrible twist of irony that surfaced on Wednesday morning, and is the latest in a series of sexual abuse allegations, many of them – including Tuesday night’s – allegedly perpetrated by patients at the Durban and Coastal Mental Health home.
The DA’s visit came after an SABC report on Tuesday that the family of a patient claimed staff were negligent as Ntando Dlamini suffocated while having an epileptic seizure.The allegations have raised the concern of the KwaZulu-Natal department of social development, which has ordered a full probe into these – and other – allegations about the facility in Sherwood, Durban.
The organisation describes itself as the “largest Mental Health Organisation in South Africa”.
Its executive director, Gita Harie, admitted to Tuesday night’s incident.
“The matter was brought to my attention immediately this morning,” she said on Wednesday. “The family [of the victim] was contacted immediately and the alleged victim has been taken for a medical examination.”
Harie said the alleged perpetrator was another patient at the facility and a full investigation was underway, pending the results of the medical examination.
Harie also addressed other allegations of sexual abuse, confirming that three incidents took place in 2016. In all the cases, the same patient was allegedly assaulted by another patient.Harie said the incidents were reported and police were notified, but there was not enough evidence to support the allegations.
She was speaking after a visit by DA MPL and health spokesperson Imran Keeka. His party was reacting to recent shocking allegations, ranging from sexual abuse to ill-treatment and exploitation of patients.
After conducting his oversight inspection, Keeka disputed claimed of the exploitation, saying: “On the issue of patients being used as cleaners and security guards, during my walkabout I found large teams of people working under supervision, producing products that are going to be sold in the market. I found, in the hostel, patients cleaning.
“This all part of a rehabilitation and integration process that is usual and expected.”
Keeka said he did raise the issue of patients being in charge of the security gate but was assured by the facility that the patients were under increased supervision.
But Keeka said that the allegations were a worry, especially in the light of the fatal “Life Esidimeni incident” – and urged families of patients to make regular visits to the homes to make sure everything was in order.
The Department of Social Development, which subsidies the facility, confirmed receiving reports of the allegations and had lodged an investigation.In a statement, MEC for social development Weziwe Thusi said: “I have asked that the head of department investigate the allegations to ensure that the centre complies with norms and standards and that mental health patients receive the treatment they deserve.”
The Department of Health referred comment to Social Development.

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