Meet Olivia Pharo, the nurse who used her pension to provide better healthcare in Atlantis

Profile of nurse, Olivia Pharo, sitting at her desk.
Olivia Pharo used her pension to open a clinic in Atlantis, Cape Town

When Sister Olivia Pharo retired from her job as a nurse at Wesfleur hospital in Cape Town in 2018 it was just the beginning. Most retirees look forward to putting their feet up and spending time with their families. 

But Pharo did something extraordinary. She used her pension payout to open her own private clinic in Atlantis, a neighbourhood she’s lived and worked in  for most of her life. 

“Wesfleur [hospital] covers a large area. It was supposed to be a day hospital. But because  of the segregation act and the amount of people that were moved to Atlantis, it became a 24 hour casualty, maternity and in-patient facility with a community health centre attached to it.” 

Before her retirement, Pharo had worked at the hospital since 1995. 

“The burden on the medical staff was huge; patients didn’t get the basic care they needed. As healthcare workers we were also struggling to keep up. Wesfleur was becoming a one-stop place for gunshots too [due to gang violence],” she says.

Pharo always felt like she could do more as a healthcare worker and Atlantis resident. Unsatisfied with the quality of healthcare delivery at the facility, she left Wesfleur.

Community health 

In addition to injuries, the health issues facing Atlantis residents include non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Pharo says mental illness is increasingly becoming a challenge too. 

A regular at the clinic is 18-year old Aisha. She often visits the clinic for mental health counselling. The matriculant and Atlantis resident went through a traumatic experience that negatively affected her mental health.

“Something happened to me, which I wouldn’t want any teenager or young girl to go through, that’s why I came to this clinic. Whenever I come, I get helped immediately and speaking to Sister Pharo has really helped me a lot,” she says.

“The staff are really kind and helpful. I feel like this clinic has made a really big impact on the community. Sister Pharo has helped realise that mental health is very important.”

“Belongs to the community”

The clinic, known simply as ‘Sister Pharos’ opened its doors in 2018. While it is a private facility, patients are charged a nominal fee for the services. The Covid-19 pandemic did a lot of damage to everybody economically. But Pharo is happy that the clinic is up and running. She says that people in Atlantis and surrounding areas struggle financially, and affordable healthcare is important to the community. During awareness months, the clinic offers free services such as free breast examinations or blood pressure tests.

Pharo plays an administrative role as well as tending to patients as a clinical nurse practitioner. She has been working without receiving a salary for almost three years now, but has no regrets. 

“I enjoy what I’m doing. We’re stabilising and I foresee very huge things for the clinic. I don’t want to say this is my baby, I think this belongs to the community,” she says. 

Community benefit 

Toshca Abrahams (38), who was born and grew up in Atlantis started working at the clinic in June 2023, as a home based care student. She says some community members prefer to use the services of the clinic because of the long waiting times and poor service at the government (Wesfleur) hospital.

“Here you can pay less for good healthcare. It would be great to have more primary healthcare facilities like these in our community, especially for our elderly who can’t sit and wait too long.

There’s only one hospital (Wesfleur) that must serve Atlantis, Mamre, Pella, Witsand and other surrounding areas, which is why more primary healthcare facilities like Sister Pharo’s are a need”, she says. – Health-e News

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