Taking in more patients 'was an order and there is nothing we can do'

Johannesburg – The deputy manager in the nursing department at the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre (CCRC) on Tuesday testified how they were forced to obey orders from top officials and take in more patients from Life Esidimeni than they initially agreed to.

Dikeledi Jenny Manaka, the acting deputy manager in the nursing department, said she and other junior managers tried to raise warnings about the number of patients they were taking in, but they were told it was orders (received).

"You know, to be honest, I don’t want to talk about my thoughts, but I will relate to my feelings… We tried as the lower level managers [to tell them] that this was not going to be right," she said.

"We complained that we were not happy with the situation, but the CEO said it was an order and there’s nothing she can do [about it]."

Manaka said the orders came from senior departmental officials including Dr Makgabo Manamela, the suspended head of the mental health review board. Manamela is expected to testify at the hearings on Monday next week.

Manaka said it would have been more "manageable" to take in fewer patients at a time.

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"If we took those patients in a small group, it would have been manageable. But the way it was done was like a bomb for us. We did not even have time to create rapport with the patients," she said.

In March 2016, she and other staff from CCRC went to the Life Esidimeni facility in Randfontein to collect 10 patients, but they ended up leaving with 26.

"When we got to Life Esidimeni, we found them (the patients) already put aside. Every group was prepared for where they were going," she said.

Manaka said they were told that they were "supposed to take as many [patients] as they can carry".

She is expected back at the hearings on Wednesday to continue her testimony.

'Remarkable intervention'

Earlier in the day, Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, the former president of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), finished his testimony.

He said although he respected the decision from one of the court applications he had been involved in, to stop the Gauteng department of health from moving patients to Takalani, he felt it was wrong and based on false information from the department.

During his testimony, parts of Dr Tiego Selebano's deposition was read out where he said Takalani would be able to administer the same care to patients as Life Esidimeni would.

Selebano, the suspended head of the Gauteng health department, was challenging a subpoena to make him testify at the arbitration hearings.

Talatala’s evidence was that Selebano’s affidavit contained "lies" because Takalani was not able to provide the same care to the Life Esidimeni patients, and that was evident in the fact that Takalani was one of the deadliest institutions where the patients were moved to.

After his testimony, Talatala was thanked for his "remarkable intervention" by arbitration chair former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

He said Talatala’s intervention was without any immediate benefit or gain, and the families who lost loved ones clapped hands while ululating after his testimony.

The hearings continue on Wednesday.