Gang war places health staff at risk

The Department of Health has enforced more safety measures following a spate of gang shootings in the area.

With the recent spike in shootings in Lavender Hill, Cafda and the surrounding areas, staff at the Retreat Community Health Centre (CHC) have taken strain and are fearing for their safety as they treat rival gang members at the hospital.

Last month, on Monday July 16, a 23-year-old man was shot and killed by a gunman who passed security at the Eastridge clinic in Mitchell’s Plain when he and his girlfriend took their 1-year-old daughter to the clinic. Before that, on Thursday May 3, patients at Seawinds clinic near Lavender Hill had to dive for cover when gunshots rang out near the clinic.

Southern Mail spoke to Monique Johnstone, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Health’s Klipfontein/ Mitchell’s Plain and Western/ Southern Sub-structures, about the safety of patients and staff amid the ongoing gang violence and an incident at the Retreat CHC where staff were threatened.

Ms Johnstone confirmed staff were verbally abused by escorts of a patient at the Retreat CHC on Saturday July 14. She could not confirm if the incident was gang related. “The facility manager was contacted and arrived at the facility to address the issue with both the staff and the family. Police were alerted and responded quickly to provide further safety and security at the scene,” she said.

Ms Johnstone said unruly behaviour of a small percentage of patient escorts is not unique at Retreat CHC. “This is because we only allow one escort per patient for security measures. We are, however, wanting to partner with health committees and other community structures to build mutual respect between health care workers and members of the public so that health care delivery can be done under optimal conditions,” she said.

Asked if the Retreat CHC has measures in place to avoid what happened at Eastridge clinic, Ms Johnstone said the department is taking every step to ensure the safety of staff and patients and their safety remains central to the department and forms part of all monthly operational health facility management meetings.

“Security contracts are in place at all health facilities, including Retreat CHC on a 24-hour basis, with contract management happening at local and district levels, in partnership with the Department of Community Safety,” said Ms Johnstone.

She said the Department of Community Safety does annual risk assessments at all health facilities and creates risk profiles to allocate security resources.

“For further security measures at Retreat CHC, the department has also improved and installed the facility’s security lighting, CCTV camera, physical improvements to the external gate, proper access control at the main entrance, improvement on the trauma unit door and fencing. The purchasing of hand-held metal detectors and panic buttons are in procurement process. We also have standard operating procedures at our facilities on what processes to follow in case of safety and security risks,” she said.

The Retreat CHC management team has had local events for safety awareness and to strengthen ties to community structures which includes the health committee.

A regional safety summit was also convened for the Retreat CHC in August last year with multiple partners, including the health committee, SAPS, local ward councillors, the community police forum, neighbourhood watches, the Department of Community Safety and the security contractors to look at further mechanisms and pool efforts to make the immediate precinct around the facility safer in a “whole of society approach”.

“Health cannot be solely responsible for safety external to the facility. Our staff offers health services and tend to the victims and survivors of trauma, therefore, we request that our local community assist in protecting facility-based staff who deliver essential services. The department spends millions of rand on security companies to protect our patients, staff and infrastructure, diverting scarce resources that could go into additional direct health care delivery, staffing and equipment,” said Ms Johnstone.

Asked if patients are turned away if they are gangsters, gang affiliated or put other patients and staff at risk, Ms Johnstone said the facility’s mandate is to offer a healthcare service to all clients. “We look after all patients coming through our doors. The department cannot deny care to anyone, as it is our mandate to provide universal care as recognised in the constitution. Therefore, we treat patients equally according to their condition,” she said.

Southern Mail contacted the Retreat Health Committee for their comment on the matter but calls and messages were unanswered at the time of going to print.