Christiana community concerned over access to health services after hospital fire
While it is still unclear what caused the fire at the Christiana District Hospital in the North West province last week, residents are concerned about what this means for their health needs.
Millions of rands’ worth of infrastructure and equipment were destroyed by the fire that left a big part of the Hospital in ruins on 8 September.
The North West Department of Health says it still awaits a forensic report which will determine the cause of the fire and the exact costs of the damages. The department could not give a timeframe for when the findings are expected.
At the time of the fire, the 49-bed hospital was going through the final stages of an R95 million upgrade by Temi Construction PTY (LTD) that began last year.
The upgrades reportedly included technology such as a nurse’s call button in all wards and bathrooms, electronic beds, COVID-19 compliant doors, a new kitchen, a mortuary, and a new maternity ward. All the old hospital equipment was replaced with new equipment which was destroyed in the fire.
Patients will now have to travel long distances to access hospital services. Christiana District Hospital was also a COVID-19 designated vaccination site which authorities say did about 75 vaccinations a day.
According to the provincial health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane, there were no injuries reported and 22 patients were evacuated and taken to the Joe Morolong Hospital in Vryburg and the Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp.
“There were no injuries reported at the time of [the] fire and all patients, including staff members, were safely evacuated. However, all the new multi-million rand equipment, including beds, medical equipment, new television sets, some computers, and laptops that were in the administration block as well as all renovations that were recently done by contractors were destroyed in the fire. Only the new pharmacy, laundry, mortuary and boardroom were not affected by the fire,” says Lekgethwane.
The hospital remains closed.
Patients affected by hospital closure
A community leader Lebogang Tau who says the complete closure of the only hospital in the area is going to affect those trying to access healthcare services.
“My grandmother collects her chronic medication at the Christiana District Hospital every month and now I don’t know where she will go. The fire has caused serious disruption, and I am worried about her wellbeing,” he says.
“Most patients in our area are now going to struggle because the three nearby clinics,(Utlwanang, Bloemhof CHC, and Marikana Clinic) only stabilise patients and do not provide surgical procedures. Patients used to be taken from these clinics by ambulance to the Christiana District Hospital. The nearest community healthcare centre is in Utlwanang township but does not have bed space for patients,” says Tau.
Tau tells Spotlight that he hopes government will quickly rebuild the Christiana Hospital because he feels that with the pandemic, hospitals in Klerksdorp (about 200km from Christiana) and Vryburg (about 150km from Christiana) are also running short on bed space. He says if ambulance services are delayed, a lot of patients might lose their lives.
“I hope that all stakeholders will come together to ensure that our hospital is quickly rebuilt because we have a lot of trauma cases, like stabbings in our area. If a patient has to travel for a long distance or wait for a long time for an ambulance to arrive, I am afraid they will not make it. Furthermore, with the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors or nurses will have to call other hospitals to check if there is bed space which is limited during these times,” says Tau.
Vusi Matselane who is also from Christiana, says he had to travel almost 200km for his wife to be admitted at Klerksdorp Hospital.
“The fire at Christiana District Hospital has really set us back because last week my wife had to be admitted for COVID-19, but we had to travel nearly 200km for her to get assistance in Klerksdorp. This hospital was really important because it serviced neighbouring communities like Hertzogville and Bloemhof. Now people are struggling to get their medication. The hospital fire has affected us a lot, not only as a community but neighbouring towns too. We are hoping that government will rebuild a new hospital for us very soon,” he says.
Meanwhile, North West Health MEC Madoda Sambatha has urged hospital management to prioritise the vaccination drive because the province is falling behind, ranking among the three lowest-performing provinces. He has also pleaded with those responsible for patient transport to ensure that patients in the area receive adequate care.
In 2018, the North West Health Department was placed under national administration due to poor service delivery.
Department making alternative plans
Senior Communications Officer at the Christiana District Hospital, Omphile Morwaagae says the department and hospital management are locked in meetings to ensure that primary healthcare is provided to residents in the area.
“Management has developed a plan of ensuring that services continue to be rendered to the community. Staff will be allocated and divided [among] our clinics and also the possibility of extending operating hours of some of the facilities has not been ruled out,” says Morwaagae.
Morwaagae says they are also working with the taxi industry to ensure that those who want to be vaccinated can be taken to a neighbouring town. “We also have an arrangement with the local taxi association to help ferry community members willing to vaccinate [and] bring them this side [to] Bloemhof while plans [are underway] to get the vaccination side of Christiana up and running,” he says.
He goes on to say that complicated maternity cases and patients who require level 2 care will be sent to Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp or the Joe Morolong Memorial Hospital in Vryburg.
Medical staff still coming to terms
“Staff of Christiana District Hospital are still devastated after losing their hospital,” says hospital CEO Bocha Modise.
“You must know some of them have been working there for many years, so there is an element of emotional attachment to it because it was a community property managed by them. Even worse, this happened just when part of the renovations was done and the hospital had just been upgraded to a 49-bed institution with state-of-the-art technology,” says Modise.
Bocha says medical staff is offered counselling at a local church following the tragic incident.
“Our staff is still hurt and currently the community of Christiana has shown serious unity and support to the staff in general in the sense that a community church has been made available to be used for counselling of our staff,” says Modise. “As much as we would like the process to move faster we cannot do that, simply because people heal differently and we ought to exercise caution because we expect the very same people to go out and help heal people (the community with their own problems) so we are not rushing anything. We are counselling them at the necessary speed. Our social workers are hard at work on this.”
Consultations underway to transfer staff to other facilities
“We are a government institution and we fully subscribe to labour regulations which rule the employer and employee relationship in a workplace. So regarding staff being transferred to other facilities, we are currently still in consultations with various stakeholders,” he says. “I believe once all parties have reached an agreement regarding temporary transfers to our other health facilities, we shall make a statement in this regard. However, at the moment, no transfer has been done as yet due to the ongoing two simultaneous processes of counselling and consultation with unions.”
Plans to rebuild
Modise says different stakeholders have already met to ensure that the hospital is rebuilt.
“There was a meeting with the provincial government this week and we are happy to indicate that we are also in talks with private commercial banks in the hope that they will come in and invest in the rebuilding of our hospital. This is a possible move towards us getting our hospital up and running again. It is still premature to say anything further than this, as last night’s meeting was our first. The hospital board is also in meetings to find a way of moving forward,” says Modise.
Local Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Theo Gerber says the hospital fire has shown a spirit of dedication within the Christiana community.
“The DA is proud that people from all walks of life joined hands to limit the damage to the hospital. This shows the spirit of dedication to the community the people of Christiana hold so dear to their hearts,” says Gerber. “We are grateful to the hospital and emergency response staff for their efforts to protect lives and to contain the blaze. We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of local farmers, the neighbourhood watch, and business owners for lending a helping hand.”