Covid-19 positive health workers accused of ‘carelessness’

Mediclinic workers say that when nursing and support staff at one of the company’s Pretoria hospitals test positive for Covid-19, they are accused of catching it in taxis and shopping malls. This is despite allegedly inadequate controls to protect them amid an outbreak at the hospital.

Workers at Mediclinic Kloof, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said they are blamed for contracting and spreading Covid-19 and accused of being “careless”. The private hospital company denies this.

Staff who’ve tested Covid-19 positive say the hospital management has accused them of not taking precautions when outside the hospital; the staff claim they are not provided with adequate PPE at work. (Photo: Paul Botes)

Healthcare workers are among those most at risk of contracting the sometimes deadly virus. In Gauteng, the current epicentre of Covid-19 in South Africa, more than 5 000 public and private healthcare workers have been infected. After outbreaks among healthcare workers at Netcare’s St Augustine Hospital in Durban and Mediclinic Morningside in Johannesburg, unions warned that the private healthcare sector was failing to control infections. 

According to Mediclinic spokesperson, Tertia Kruger, “less than 15% of our staff members [at Mediclinic Kloof] have tested positive for the virus”. With a staff complement of 456 workers, this means about 68 workers have been infected. 

Kruger would not disclose how many patients are currently being treated at the facility for Covid-19, although workers say they fear the true scale of the outbreak has been kept hidden from them.

One Mediclinic Kloof worker said she was among the first health workers to test positive for the virus. But management told her she contracted the virus while taking a taxi, the nursing assistant told the M&G.

“They said I didn’t get it at work. But we had one patient [who] was positive. And the day they discharged that person, they [management] asked me to clear out the room where the patient was isolated.”

The nursing assistant said she believes Mediclinic fumbled her case by failing to properly trace how she became infected. “The fact that they said I didn’t get it in the hospital was wrong, because now they don’t know where I got it.”

Another worker said she faced similar accusations when testing positive. “They questioned me. They asked if I wore a mask in the taxi … They don’t want to take the blame. They tell us we got the virus in the taxis and in the malls. They say we don’t wear masks when we go to the malls. But we tell them: ‘No, we don’t go anywhere without masks’.”

Healthcare workers at Mediclinic Kloof. (Photos: Paul Botes)

The worker believes Mediclinic does not want to take responsibility for the outbreak, so it does not have to close. “They only care about money.”

She added that she believes decisions taken by management are coloured by racism. “They take some people seriously; others, they don’t take seriously.”

Kruger said Mediclinic does not tolerate “any racist behaviour whatsoever”. She also denied that management had blamed workers for contracting the virus. 

But she added: “We understand that the risk of staff members contracting Covid-19 does not reside in the hospital in isolation, but also through community-based transmission, given the rapid increases of Covid-19 in Gauteng. Staff members have, therefore, been encouraged to be vigilant in their social distancing, hand hygiene and adhering to national mask policy when outside of the hospital environment.”

One worker in the hospital’s high-care unit said staff is accused of being “careless”. But the worker said inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is likely the main reason for the outbreak among health workers at Mediclinic Kloof.

When dealing with patients under investigation, staff are given only a generic surgical mask and an apron, she said. The worker has comorbidities and is technically exempted from treating Covid-19 patients, but she says testing delays often mean she comes in contact with these patients.

“When you come the following day, then you find out that the person you were looking after with a normal apron and everything is positive. Then as time goes on and you find out you’re also positive. But when you tell them you got it from work, they say us blacks get it from taxis or malls. Or if you stay in Tembisa, they say you got it there because it is ‘overcrowded’.”

The worker said they wear the same mask for the duration of a 12-hour shift. Kruger said staff are provided with the appropriate PPE for the tasks they perform, in line with World Health Organisation and National Institute for Communicable Diseases recommendations.

“Mediclinic’s core priority is the safety of our patients, staff and associated doctors, and we strictly adhere to recommendations for the appropriate use of PPE, including the use of surgical face masks.”

Workers reporting “a damp, soiled or damaged mask, will have this item replaced”, Kruger added.

When asked if the hospital would consider closing for a period to deal with the outbreak, Kruger said: “While temporary closure of hospitals may be warranted at times … closure of a hospital will result in the loss of critical bed capacity and care services from the greater healthcare system and, as such, any decision in this regard is made diligently with the safety of staff and the patient community in mind.” 

Individual units have, at different times, halted admissions and undergone disinfection, she said.

But the worker with comorbidities is convinced the hospital is not handling the outbreak properly. She is constantly scared she will contract the virus. “Because all the patients lately have Covid. We can’t run away from it. It is a reality and we must face it. Everybody has Covid. I know people close to me who have passed away. So I think what Mediclinic is doing is really bad.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

Related stories

There are useful lessons to learn from the generation of the 1986 emergency

The parents of the 2020 crisis have little say about their children’s education

Miss Rona’s teaching the 4IR lessons

Schooling is stuck in the 1950s, but technology must be blended with the basics of education

Caring for students goes beyond the teaching project

The Covid-19 pandemic gives universities an opportunity to find new ways of ensuring the health and well-being of students

Teachers trying to catch up, ‘ticking boxes’, overloading learners

Teachers who spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week are not confident that any effective teaching and learning will take place during this academic year, even if it is extended

‘I will have to repeat grade 8’

Schools have been closed again. After months of doing schoolwork at home, not all parents think their children are ready to move to the next grade

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday