The entire top management of Livingstone Hospital has been placed on special leave pending an investigation into the alleged theft of patient food, a missing computer and laptops, fraudulent loans and payouts, and the quality of the security services at the hospital.
Those affected are:
● CEO Thulane Madonsela, who was headhunted for the position three years ago;
● Human resources director Victor Tobo;
● Head of clinical services Dr Mojalefa Maseloa;
● Nursing manager Ronel du Preez;
● Finance director Mike Byrnes;
● The director of soft services – which includes catering, cleaning, landscaping, parking, pest control and security – Mcebisi Gqotana; and
● The head of information technology, Ullyndyss Maloy.
In a letter signed by Eastern Cape health department superintendent Dr Thobile Mbengashe, sent on Wednesday, Mbengashe says he has agreed to grant all the managers special leave for the duration of the forensic investigation.
“Please be advised that this decision will be reviewed as soon as the preliminary investigation report is available.
“Further, you are directed to make yourselves available for consultation with the investigators when required to do so during working hours,” he says.
Only Byrnes and Madonsela responded to a request for comment, with both of them saying: “This media query should be referred to the provincial office.”
All of the others placed on special leave read messages sent to them via WhatsApp, but did not respond.
They also did not answer phone calls.
According to an official agenda for a labour forum meeting between Mbengashe and union members – held at Livingstone Hospital on Tuesday – the issues discussed included:
● An investigation into the disappearance of a state computer and laptops at Livingstone Hospital between 2015 and 2018;
● Alleged irregularities in the payout of an early retirement package to an unnamed senior official;
● The reinstatement of Du Preez as nursing manager. The agenda does not indicate what this related to;
● Allegations of fraud and corruption in the payment of a resettlement allowance for a senior official who was living in Port Elizabeth. Again, the official was not named;
● Allegations that overtime was paid to unnamed senior managers (managers are not entitled to overtime);
● A loan made to an unnamed senior manager by the previous hospital board;
● Housing allocated to Madonsela;
● An investigation into the hospital security provider and the provision of alleged inferior security services; and
● An investigation into allegations that Madonsela was receiving weekly groceries from stock meant for patient food.
Mafoko Security Patrols director-general Lebo Nare said it was not aware of the probe.
“Neither have we been contacted by any government entity and/or persons in the Eastern Cape government and/or Livingstone Hospital with a complaint regarding the quality of services that we render to Livingstone.
“We do, however, note with deep concern that there has been a spike in the number of arrests of Livingstone Hospital staff, who were detained by Mafoko Security personnel for various acts of theft in the last five months,” Nare said.
“There were a total of 97 cases against various staff members, ranging from general assistants to nurses.
“The matter has been raised with the hospital’s security manager and escalated to the provincial government.
“We therefore find it comical that an investigation into the quality of our services would be in question following so many arrests in such a short period.”
The decision by Mbengashe follows more than a week of disruptive protest action at the hospital, with the three big unions – Denosa, Nehawu and Hospersa – joining forces.
They were also joined by the South African Security and Protection Union.
There has been a heavy police presence at the hospital since Wednesday last week.
Eastern Cape health acting deputy director-general Dr Litha Matiwane and the manager for fraud management, Vuyani Xinwa, were chased away from the hospital last week after they were sent to address the concerns of union members.
The unions demanded to see Mbengashe and sat down with him on Tuesday after the department agreed to withdraw its application for an urgent interdict against the protesting workers.
Madonsela and Mbengashe were seen earlier this week leaving the hospital with a police escort. Unhappy Nehawu members continued their protest on Thursday, demanding that Madonsela and Maseloa be suspended without pay.
Union spokesperson Miki Jaceni said he understood that preliminary action had been taken by Mbengashe but he was on his way to Bhisho to meet him to discuss the issue.
“We understand suspension is still on the cards,” he said.
Treatment Action Campaign deputy chair Thembisile Nogampula said he was meant to meet hospital management this week, but his appointment had been cancelled due to the unstable situation at the hospital.
Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha did not respond to several sets of detailed questions about the latest developments sent via e-mail and WhatsApp, apart from a terse comment on Monday that “there is still nothing to confirm about alleged suspension”.
He did not respond to any questions sent on Thursday.
The Livingstone Hospital board, chaired by Pula Lonake, also did not respond to detailed questions about both the alleged loan from the board or its oversight at the hospital.
Attempts since September to get answers from the board on its oversight functions, meetings and work have failed to elicit a response.