When Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse was completed and the government through the Ministry of Health embarked on marketing it to the public, they hailed its design, maintaining that the hospital was designed with the special needs and condition of their patients in mind.
In one of the marketing write-ups it was stated: “the choice of materials has been determined by the underlying themes in different areas within the hospital such that the children’s wards are to be finished in bright colours, the adults’ wards in more subdued shades; while the psycho-geriatric wards for the elderly will be defined by the prevalence of wood to generate a warmer and homely feeling”.
It would, however, seem that of the entire special and well-thought out features, the hospital management did not anticipate the possibility of fire break up.
In a matter that has so far been kept under wraps by hospital management and the Ministry of Health, the male psycho-geriatric ward at Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital burned up due to a fire that was allegedly started by an elderly patient admitted at the hospital about two weeks ago.
Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital Superintendent Dr Namendwa Kuboka Leech confirmed that the fire was started by a patient. The patient apparently gathered several mattresses from some vacant beds in the ward and torched them.
When this publication visited the hospital this week the room where the fire started was still intact. In fact the charcoaled piled up mattress though burned were still piled on top of the bed.
Though speculation is that the fire lasted a little more than 45 minutes, the extent of the damage is severe as the entire right wing of the ward is damaged. Because the ceiling was made of wood, it will appear it made it easier for the fire to spread quickly.
A source within the hospital stated that had it not been for the cooperation of the hospital staff, a more catastrophic disaster could have occurred. At the time of the fire about 30 patients were housed in the ward. “Everybody was assisting in evacuating the patients from the burning building, and it was difficult because as you know they are suffering from different psychiatric conditions,” the source said.
It, however, still remains a mystery as to what the patient used to start the fire because the hospital itself is a strictly non-smoking facility and patients are thoroughly searched upon admission.
According to the hospital Superintendent, no fatalities were recorded in the incident. Patients, who were housed in the ward, have since been moved to another ward which was vacant. Though shaken, it is said they are coping. “Patients and staff were debriefed. I was on site immediately,” said Dr Leech. He could not provide the cost of the damage caused by the fire.
The fire incident, however, it would seem is just a tip of the iceberg. According to a source within the hospital, patient and staff welfare leaves a lot to be desired. Nurses at the hospital are still as disgruntled as a whole lot of others in other hospitals nationwide.
As if in confirmation of this, recently when presenting to the Public Accounts Committee of parliament the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of health, Tebogo Banamile, alluded to the fact that the ministry was aware that certain groups of workers within the ministry needed special incentives and rewards for the work that they are doing. Banamile cited psychiatric health facility workers. She, however, indicated that such issues could be dealt with better if the health sector was delinked from the public sector.
Be that as it may, our investigations have also revealed that patients welfare continue to plummet at the multi -million dollar institution. Patients, who as a procedure are locked behind chained doors, it is said often attack each other and at times even launch assaults on the very same nurses who are supposed to be caring for them. This publication can confirm that some exits doors in the burnt male psycho-geriatric ward were still chained tight during our visit.
And it has also come to light that since last year more than two patients committed suicide while admitted at the hospital. The Superintendent, however, could only confirm that only one patient committed suicide, and that the fire incident was not a suicide attempt.
According to Dr Leech, as a measure of ensuring that staff and patients are secure they have security officers in every ward. The government spent about P381 million to build Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital. Located on a 12.5 hectare plot, the psychiatric hospital provides a complete range of facilities including administration offices, wards, day hospital, outpatient department, laboratories, pharmacy, an occupational therapy complex and utility buildings.