Grieving families re-traumatised at EC mortuaries

Relatives narrate ordeals of decomposed bodies in non-functioning fridges

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A heat wave, switched-off fridges and staff shortages have been blamed for re-traumatising already grieving families.
In one case, the body of a teenager has gone missing from a state mortuary and in another, a mortuary manager faces disciplinary action after a body was placed in a fridge that was switched off.
The Eastern Cape health department responded by sending officials to investigate.
Lubabalo Gxumisa said his uncle Patrick Kesa died at Madzikane kaZulu Hospital in KwaBhaca on Saturday, but when they went to fetch the body on Monday it was already in a shocking state.
“We informed the hospital that we would only be able to fetch his body on Monday.
“On arrival, we faced the most disturbing scene.
“There was a terrible stench coming from the mortuary and there were flies all over.
“When they showed us my uncle’s body we found it was decomposing,” he said.
Gxumisa said they were informed by a mortuary attendant that only two of seven fridges were working.
They later heard that the company that was supposed to fix the fridges said they could not do so yet as they were waiting for parts.
Provincial health spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha said: “There was no technical problem with the mortuary equipment.
The attendant placed the corpse in a fridge that was switched off at the time while ice was defrosting in order for the fridge to operate optimally.
“The fridge should have been switched on immediately the body was put inside, but that wasn’t done.
“Hospital management is attending to a case of negligence against the mortuary manager and will also visit the bereaved family. It is really unfortunate that the grieving family were subjected to this and this is not acceptable practice at public facilities.”
In Xhora, grieving father Melvin Ngcothwana said they found maggots on his daughter Noluva’s body at Madwaleni Hospital.
The young woman committed suicide on January 4 after receiving the news that she had failed matric.
He said: “On that Friday, I was told that I had to book for her postmortem to be done.
“Her body was at the hospital’s mortuary and I made the booking.
“They said they were busy and the closest date would be January 14.
“When I arrived there on the day they said it was already done and her body could be released to me.
“The ghastly sight will forever be etched in my mind.”
“ We were hurt by her death but we were hurt even more by the lack of dignity that she has received in death.
“It was painful to see.”
Sicwetsha said: “The mortuary is working fine at Madwaleni. The decomposed condition of the body is attributed to the consumption of a poisonous substance.”
A case has been opened with Mthatha police after the body of a 16-year-old went missing from the state mortuary in Mthatha.
Sicwetsha said the body had been transported from Ngcobo to Mthatha for a postmortem.
“Once the postmortem was done on January 8, the family was called to collect the body and it was nowhere to be found.
“The Eastern Cape department of health is conducting an internal investigation on how the corpse disappeared.
“The department regrets the trauma this causes to the family and is doing everything possible to find the corpse so that the family can bury their child,” Sicwetsha said.
Health MEC Helen Sauls-August said: “We will leave no stone unturned to restore the dignity of the deceased and limit the grief of the family.”
At Frere Hospital in East London, bereaved families say they were either turned away or stood waiting for a single doctor to sign off on relatives’ bodies on a busy Monday.
Gonubie resident Tania O’Hagan, whose godson died over the weekend, said relatives from nine families spent hours in a queue to get the paperwork done.
“The grieving families were sitting in the blazing sun and they could see plastic-wrap body bags with actual bodies in them. There was only one official to take care of everyone’s paperwork,” O’Hagan said.
She also found the staff insensitive, saying bodies were handed over to funeral parlour staff in full view of families sitting there a metre or two, sometimes less, from them.
“After sitting there like that with all that is going on you are trying to grieve but it just numbs you.”
The Dispatch saw one corpse, wrapped in a body bag and on a stretcher, leaving the hospital in a funeral parlour vehicle.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one family member said their wait had started at 8am. By 1pm, when the Dispatch visited the mortuary, the family was still there waiting.
Frere Hospital CEO Rolene Wagner said the doctor who had to complete the death certificates was attending to a serious situation with one of the Frere in-patients.
However, as soon as the doctor was able to, he completed the death certificate, and it was done by 10.45am.
Wagner said on Mondays a backlog was always present because bodies were not released on Saturdays or Sundays.
Also, sometimes bodies had to wait for relatives to travel from rural areas.
There were 14 bodies released from the mortuary on Monday, including those who had died on the weekend...

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