Inept hospital boards have been blamed for the Eastern Cape’s poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with some “existing on paper only” and others hijacked by people lacking the necessary expertise to manage operations.
Health unions have labelled boards “dysfunctional” at best, and have also charged that processes to appoint boards are deeply flawed.
One source has alleged that up to 50% of state hospitals in the province do not have boards.
Department superintendent-general Thobile Mbengashe scoffed at this claim, saying all 85 health facilities in the Eastern Cape had boards. But he conceded that while some were “active and functional” some were “not so functional”.
DispatchLIVE spoke to a former board member of a hospital, a nurse and representatives from the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).
All said hospitals either did not have functional boards or that these boards did not meet at all.
Denosa provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi said as far as Denosa knew, the boards existed on paper only.
“As stakeholders we’re supposed to be a part of that,” Sodidi said.
He said he had never seen notices or advertisements calling for applications for board membership.
In his 15 years in office with Denosa, he had “never seen” a process to recruit a hospital board.
“It makes sense to link the fight against Covid-19 and hospital boards. It would have been easier for hospitals to deal with the issue because the hospital board would be coming from the community,” he said.
Nehawu secretary Mickey Jaceni said: “It’s true that they (the boards) are dysfunctional. I’ve served on the Frere Hospital board. There are very limited powers, making the boards dysfunctional. We had thought that by this time the MEC would have given them powers, but for now they don’t have that. We are still pursuing that.”
He said the situation meant that hospital CEOs were accountable only to themselves.
Jaceni called on the MEC to fast-track a process that would make hospital boards functional.
“Almost all of them are dysfunctional. [While serving at Frere] I did not get a sense that Cecilia Makiwane or Komani hospital boards were functional. Hospital boards must be constituted by different people with diverse skills.”
Mbengashe said there were “variations of functionalities of boards”.
“Some are very active and functional. Some are not so functional. What the MEC has actually done is give stipends of about R500 based on their (board members) attendance and registry of them being there.”
Mbengashe said each board member was supposed to attend “about four meetings a year, making their stipend about R2,000 each”.
The stipend was meant to cover transportation costs.
DispatchLIVE understands that in rural settings, traditional leaders nominate community members with technical expertise to hospital boards. They are then appointed by the MEC.
Queried about the state of boards and the alleged jobs-for-pals scandal at Cofimvaba Hospital, Mbengashe said: “There are rules. The boards are an oversight body, which forms part of the voice of the community. They’re working under the auspices of the MEC and the MEC appoints them and they function for a period.
“It’s important I tell you this because you’ve heard the other side [from the unions and nurses]. If there is an issue of corruption or nepotism and the board picks it up, their responsibility is to inform the MEC. There are people who are going to break the rules — you can’t stop them — but you need to put in place the control systems and make sure you deal with that.”