- Life Esidimeni Group says they offered care at reasonable prices.
- The healthcare group claim they never chased profits.
- A new witness was due to appear at the inquest on Friday.
The Life Esidimeni group has denied overcharging the Gauteng health department for the care of mental healthcare patients, an inquest into the deaths of 144 patients has heard.
Former Life Esidimeni managing director, Morgan Mkhatshwa, said they offered the best care to patients at reasonable prices.
Mkhatshwa said for the 2012/2013 financial year, the Gauteng health department gave them an increase of three percent, resulting in a shortfall of R7.9 million.
Their financial difficulties were also made worse by the department not paying them on time.
“There were times when the department of health didn’t pay within the stipulated timelines… Life Esidimeni would have to apply for a subsidy from the mother company Life Care.”
He said they were charged interest on the subsidies.
The High Court in Pretoria is trying to determine whether anyone should be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 patients after they were moved from Life Esidimeni Group health facilities to NGOs in 2016.
Mkhatshwa, on his last day of cross-examination, said tariff increases were calculated based on the consumer price index and salary negotiations with unions.
The company spent about 53% of its budget on salaries. He said a study by the Health Advanced Institute in 2015 found that Life Esidimeni rental and transport costs were reasonable.
The catering costs per patient per day was R17. The cost per patient for personal hygiene was R1.26 at Baneng and around 45c at other facilities.
“We had tight controls and made sure that we were [as] cost-efficient as possibly can be. The needs for mental health users were met and I was comfortable with that.”
He said his team would regularly visit facilities to ensure that patients received the best care. Mkhatshwa said during these visits, he was happy with the level of care.
“I was satisfied. There would be cases in one or two instances where a particular user needed constant changing. And they would explain at the facility that the person needed constant changing.”
Health Advance Institute also found that in 2015, Life Esidimeni made a 13.5% profit. This was low compared to the 28% growth of investments in the health industry in the same period.
It gives me comfort to see that Life Esidemeni profits were very low which meant that the money that Gauteng department of health was paying Esidimeni was being effectively utilised to care for mental healthcare users. And it proves that this was not about running a business. If it was, we would have been in the same range as the health industry.
On Friday, the inquest is expected to hear testimony from Zanele Buthelezi, who used to work at the Life Esidimeni Waverley Care Centre.