Rehab centre run like a ‘prison camp’ is set to be shut down
The owners claim the accusations against them are gross distortions of the true situation
Hillview Manor, a Midvaal drug rehabilitation centre accused of “prison camp” conditions, is being shut down by the department of social development (DSD) following an investigation into the organisation’s fitness to treat patients.
The department’s probe determined the centre was unlicensed, was treating minor patients alongside adults, which is not permitted, and also informed the facility to stop certain punishments.
The probe emanated from a complaint by a Gauteng mother who had sent her daughter to the facility in October last year after a drug relapse.
The mother, who spoke with Times Select, explained she immediately sent her daughter’s 10-page written complaint to the DSD after hearing of the alleged mistreatment at the centre.
The complaint details how, over the young woman’s five- month stay at Hillview, she was allegedly subjected to increasingly severe punishments for anything deemed by staff as an infraction.
While the initial punishments involved cleaning the facility’s kitchens and general tidying up, eventually she was being forced into hard labour involving moving large rocks on the estate from one spot to another for days at a time.“They took my shoes, clothes, coffee, the base of my bed, my blankets, pillow, duvet cases away,” she wrote.She also complained her toiletries were taken away, and that she was forced to scrub walls with a toothbrush.Yet another punishment involved the women at the facility being forced to dig large holes at the back of the house.While the centre promises regular counselling sessions, the woman claims that in the five months she was only given two sessions, and was denied the ability to telephone or receive visits from her mother.One of the facility’s directors, Cheryl Verster, denied in a written statement the facility had instituted any prison-type conditions.“We have rules in place to prevent chaos. All rules are signed for prior to admission, and the give-and-take system of reward and consequences are also acknowledged and signed for,” she wrote.She accused the young woman of having brought contraband, a “sandwich bag full of tablets”, on to the property after a visit to her doctor, which the young woman claimed was her prescribed medication.She also insisted the young woman had formed romantic relations with other residents, and that the facility had revoked phone calls and visits because of this behaviour.While she admitted that certain luxuries were taken away from residents who broke the rules, Verster denied taking away “basic toiletries”.Verster said this particular patient had a history of suicide attempts, and therefore her bed base was taken away to prevent her from using it to hang herself.“We do not admit high suicide risk cases as stated in our admission criteria, but [she] had been stabilised at a prior facility which assured us she was stable prior to admission with us,” Verster wrote.
Verster sent through a document, allegedly from one of the woman’s counselling sessions where she claimed to be happy at Hillview.
“Not once was complaints lodged about bullying or abuse. We also have a committee group on a Monday with all residents and management present, where the residents are able to voice complaints, sort out issues with fellow residents and put in requests, and not once was bullying or ill-treatment mentioned,” she wrote.
She said patients were initially allowed to have contact with relatives, but once they were “settled” they earned phone call privileges and visits once a month.
“[She] lost her privileges on a number of occasions due to two romantic relationships started on different occasions, stealing fellow residents’ property and bringing in medication on another occasion. The statement that she had no communication with her mother is untrue. She had phone calls a few times.”
DSD Gauteng spokesperson Thebe Mohatle confirmed the complaint from the parent, but also another from SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) in the Vaal about the centre’s treatment of children and adults at the same facility.
On March 12, the department sent a team to investigate, with the DSD confirming Hillview was not registered in terms of the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act.
It was also revealed the facility failed to acquire a health assessment, and that certain recommendations were made to management, particularly regarding the sleeping arrangements at the facility, and the treatment of children being stopped immediately.
“The department will issue an enforcement letter to instruct the centre to close with immediate effect, as it is operating without being registered in terms of Act 70 of 2008,” Mohatle said last week.
He said in Gauteng province, there were 16 funded, inpatient treatment centres and a further 16 registered private inpatient centres.
“The department also registers outpatient and community-based services. These currently amount to 81 centres,” he said.
Hillview Manor director Martin Verster confirmed the facility had been told to stop certain punishments, particularly the hard labour involving the movement of rocks. He said the facility had not yet received a letter informing it to shut down.
Regarding the department’s response, Cheryl Verster said the facility had submitted all the required documentation to the DSD, followed by “hundreds” of calls and e-mails to resolve the registration issues.
She admitted the centre had taken on minors in recent months. “We thought we were helping, but with the lack of assistance and the backlash we are no longer taking minors,” she said.
The mother of the complainant said her daughter was still traumatised following her stay at Hillview under such “prison camp” conditions.
She paid about R50,000 for her daughter’s six-month stay. Her daughter only stayed for five months, and is now in a different rehabilitation centre.
“I can’t believe I paid so much for them to treat my daughter like that … She has been in facilities before that were tough but weren’t abusive, but this was abuse,” she said.