Vermont Old Age Home in Hornlee, Knysna is no stranger to controversy, with the latest being an attempted hunger strike by residents in sympathy with the centre’s “overworked and underpaid” caregivers and staff members, reports Kynsna-Plett Herald.
In February this year, the Vermont board of trustees suspended and subsequently fired centre manager Hendrik Blaauw over “dishonesty and failure to follow protocol regarding procurement policies”, among other charges. Board chairperson Mietjie Tities was later elected acting manager in Blaauw’s place.
A representative from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), Simphiwe Guzi, spoke to Knysna-Plett Herald, explaining the frustration of staff members, who say they are short-staffed and consequently overworked while also being underpaid, and alleging they have not received an increase or bonus in the past three years.
Guzi said the union had been trying to meet with the management, but that all attempts to do so had been in vain thus far.
He explained that the centre’s residents, in solidarity with the staff, then decided to go on a hunger strike on June 16 until such time as management would listen to their grievances.
But this did not work either, Guzi said. “Although we appreciated the support, after a while we told them to eat because they are old and some take medication and therefore cannot afford to go without meals.”
A board member who wishes to remain anonymous also spoke to Knysna-Plett Herald last week, saying the centre had been struggling with funds and mentioning that money has gone missing and that, although Tities reported this to the board, the acting manager never opened a case with the police.
When Tities was asked for comment, she laughed and rubbished the allegations, adding: “There was never a protest action at the centre – a staff member told me about the protest action but when I had a meeting with the residents, I was told there is no such thing.”
When asked about the alleged missing funds, she refused to comment.
A resident representative, Clive Berry, said he was informed about the protest action in solidarity with staff, but referred to it as a “non-event” as nothing came of it.