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Soweto family seeks legal advice after hospital COVID-19 confusion

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Written by Marcia Zali

A Soweto family wants answers after staff at the Bheki Mlanngeni hospital said their mother died of COVID-19, but her death certificate states otherwise.

When 59 year-old Tryphosa Phangwa of Orange Farm township was admitted at Soweto’s Bheki Mlangeni Hospital for diabetes-related complications, her family did not think that it would be the last time they saw her alive. What followed was a confusing diagnosis of COVID-19 that has left the family reeling.

“My mother had been living with diabetes and hypertension so when I took her to the hospital, after running some tests the doctor asked me if I knew that she was diabetic and I said yes,” said Tryphosa Phangwa’s son, Thando Phangwa. “The doctor went on to tell me that she was a suspect for COVID-19 and I was surprised because they were getting tested and monitored regularly at her workplace.”

According to Phangwa, his mother had been treated before without complications. He requested that the hospital test her for COVID-19. While they awaited results, the hospital staff placed her in the high-care ward, which Phangwa understood to be the COVID-19 ward.

Responding to treatment

Initially, Tryphosa Phangwa mother seemed to respond well to treatment.  When Thando Phangwa left her, he assumed he would fetch her from the hospital the next day, as he had on the two other occasions his mother admitted. Instead, he was met with poor information and grief.

“I was hoping that I would be coming home with her but when I arrived at the hospital, they told me that she had passed away around one in the afternoon and I arrived at two thirty but no one had bothered to phone me,” he added.

What staff did tell him, he says, is that his mother died from COVID-19. Phangwa also alleges that the hospital burned his mother’s clothes and did not allow him to see her body. Yet, her death certificate made no mention of the deadly disease, and his mother had a normal burial.

“They say that she died of COVID-19 but the death certificate says she died of natural causes,” he told Health-e News. “I don’t believe that it was COVID-19 that killed her otherwise we wouldn’t have had a normal funeral and her body was brought home the day before the burial. If she had COVID-19 we all should’ve been infected, so I want the hospital to tell me what really happened to my mother?”

Hospital awaits formal complaint

Phangwa’s case highlights the confusion and miscommunication that others have experienced at hospitals overwhelmed during the pandemic. Phangwa says attempts to get answers from the hospital have been futile.

Still, the spokesperson for the MEC of Health Kwara Kekana says that Phangwa did not lodge a formal complaint with the hospital.

“The institution is not aware of the complaint, as there is no record on registered institutional complaints,” said Kekana.

Kekana denied the allegation of misdiagnosis.

“When a person has died from COVID-19, it is stated on the death certificate, provided at the time of death, COVID-19 results were available.”

Phangwa says that he will be seeking legal advice following the provincial department’s response.—Health-e News

About the author

Marcia Zali