Union accuses Life Healthcare hospital of secretly quarantining staff

Picture for illustration. Life Healthcare St Mary's Hospital, Mthatha. Picture: lifehealthcare.co.za

Nehawu also said positive and negative patients were being housed in the same wards at St Dominic’s and East London hospitals that were allegedly overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases.

Private healthcare provider Life Healthcare Group has denied allegations that its hospitals in the Eastern Cape are quarantining Covid-19 positive staff secretly and accommodating positive and negative patients in one ward.

Life St Dominic’s Hospital in East London confirmed that healthcare workers of various categories at the hospital had tested positive for Covid-19.

Life Healthcare vehemently denied the claim that its patients were being housed at establishments other than at the hospitals themselves. It said staff who had tested positive had the option to quarantine or self-isolate at accommodation provided by the hospital, or to do so safely at home.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) alleged that staff from the hospital were quarantined secretly in private B&B facilities and a local hotel in East London, and were told by hospital authorities not to divulge any information.

Nehawu provincial secretary, Miki Jaceni said the union was weighing up legal options to challenge the hospital.

Jaceni added positive and negative patients were being housed in the same wards at St Dominic’s and East London hospitals that were allegedly overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases.

Dr Charl van Loggerenberg, general manager: emergency medicine at Life Healthcare, said: “Employees who have tested positive for Covid-19 are given the option to quarantine or self-isolate at accommodation provided for them by the hospital. Partner establishments accommodating the patients were upmarket facilities and paid by Life Healthcare at no cost to the employee.

“We refute the allegation that the staff in quarantine [are] being accommodated in secret. Employees may be accommodated at the facilities offered by the Eastern Cape provincial government should they choose to do so. On extremely busy days at Life St Dominic’s Hospital, the emergency unit may house patients for longer than is normal while they await test results or transfer to their ward,” he said.

“At no time are patients under investigation or positive patients housed in the same area as patients who are not being treated for Covid-19. Patients identified as positive are isolated immediately.”

Van Loggerenberg said in the emergency unit, as in other units, measures were taken to prevent any suspected infection being transferred from one patient to another, even if they are in the same area.

Jaceni said besides concealing information of infected patients and workers by St Dominic’s and East London Private, the group also allegedly concealed mortalities, including the death of a positive patient who died on the way to hospital on 23 May.

The union said it received reports Life St Dominic’s have not been publishing its Covid-19 test results as they were done by private laboratories and not the National Health Laboratory Services used by public hospitals.

“We have reasons to believe that there is a continued underreporting of infections by private healthcare institutions,” Jaceni said.

Van Loggerenberg denied this, saying Life Healthcare, as an international healthcare organisation, had an ethical and moral obligation to its patients and staff and stakeholders, including government, to responsibly adhere to and comply with government Covid-19 regulations.

He said those included transparent reporting of positive patients admitted to its facilities.

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