From patients going without food for hours, cleaners shifting from cleaning duties to dishing food to patients, lack of kitchen accessories as well as patients being forced to bring their own cutlery when admitted – these are just some of a litany of food and feeding woes plaguing Onandjokwe Hospital.
The shocking revelations surfaced when nurses and patients at the hospital confided in this newspaper because they feel their complaints have fallen on deaf ears. The Health ministry is working around the clock to ensure cleanliness in the general public to prevent hygiene-related diseases such as Hepatitis E which are currently threatening the lives of hundreds of Namibians.
The hospital’s leadership confirmed the dire situation at the hospital, adding that the hospital is functioning only at an acceptable level.
In some cases, patients are forced to buy their own food or depend on relatives for decent meals as they fear the food provided by the hospital is inedible.
Somehow the hospital has come under-fire on numerous occasions over mishaps which has compromised the quality of health care on offer at the facility which caters for thousands of northerners who cannot afford private healthcare.
In essence, after a shift of washing hospital linen, cleaning of blood-stained floors and collecting bedpans; hospital cleaners then shift their energy to feed the ill.
The practice of using cleaners to distribute food to patients comes after former Permanent Secretary of Health, Dr. Andreas Mwoombola, last year issued a directive to all public health facilities that staff members should not be utilized in positions they are not qualified for, a situation often blamed on staff shortage.
Mwoombola said at the time: “It is grossly unfair to utilize cleaners and labourers as administrative staff, drivers etc. Firstly, they are not compensated in line with the level of responsibilities they are expected to perform.
Or secondly, unless they obtain the required qualifications, which in most cases do not happen. They will never be accommodated in these job categories.
Nurses have blasted the hospital management as to how the same hands that handles dirt get to handle food minutes later. However their complaints have fallen into the cracks of the over 100 years buildings.
“It is very unhygienic for cleaners to handle food when their work is to clean. This is unheard off and I only came to see this happen at Onandjokwe,” said a nurse who joined the hospital a few years ago.
The nurse who spoke on condition of anonomity said the manner in which the hospital is run have given rise to the never-ending complaints from the public.
“If one had a choice, I would never want to get admitted in Onandjokwe. The food is filthy and the hospital management also knows this because they too would not eat it.
Patients and many nurses have complained but nothing happens. It is so bad because now the poor cannot demand so they have to take whatever they get.”
A catering company Clouds Trading was awarded with the contract to supply and deliver raw food to Onandjokwe hospital in 2013.
Whether the contractual obligations included the cooking and serving remains unknown to the public. Nurses from the hospital say the cooking staff is comprised of catering company staff and the hospital kitchen staff.
“There is something dodgy about the catering tender because people complain about the food but nothing happens.
The people who cook do not serve their food so it says a lot about the quality. It is just horrible that relatives of patients have to cook for their sick loved ones.”
“When the food is cooked, it is left open. This means before the food gets to the patients, armies of cockroaches are given access to the food and stray cats are always on the look to feed in the same kitchen,” added the nurse.
Responding to questions sent to the hospital’s superintendent, Dr. Akutu Munyika confirmed that the hospital management is aware of the complaints of how food is handled and distributed.
He said there has been a change of administration from the church (ELCIN) to the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the transition process is ongoing since 2015.
“Many of the companies that provided services with the previous administrator are still the ones providing these services, pending proper procedures and specification plus signing of new contracts.
The catering company that is currently providing services to the hospital is the one that has been doing so even when the hospital was managed by the ELCIN church,” said Amunyika adding that the kitchen contract will come to an end this March.
He further said that the management of the hospital has already submitted to government for either the renewal or appointment of a new catering company with clear specifications that fit the standards of government, as seen in other hospitals.
Amunyika confirmed that the cleaners indeed ‘help’ serve food saying the contractual terms of the catering company do not compel them to have their own staff.
“Hopefully this issue will be resolved in the much-awaited new contract.
The hospital management has submitted a request for adequate staff, and the ministry is working on this issue.”
Other daily challenges that the hospital has to deal with is the shortage of kitchen accessories. Patients are requested to bring their own plates, cutlery and cups for their individual usage.
Amunyika said the specifications of the services to be provided need to be well articulated in the contract, and hopefully this will be attended to and specified in the new contract.
Amunyika said the ministry has begun the process of renovating and building new structures as well as improving the hospital’s standard.
“We are hopeful that we will the reach the acceptable standard.
In the meantime, the hospital is functioning at an acceptable level despite these challenges, and the staff is dedicated to carry out its mandate.”