– Lia Snijman. Dok and Bliksem with their masks. Photo: Francois Lombaard.

Huis Ebenhaeser has faced many complaints on Facebook from Stellenbosch residents whose family members stay at the frail care centre, saying that the centre does not communicate properly and does not follow proper health protocols. Huis Ebenhaeser’s management has denied any wrongdoing.

Two residents spoke to StellenboschNews.com independently and told more or less the same story – families are not informed until the very end that their family member had Covid-19, they are informed in a rude and abrupt manner about the passing of their family and no communication took place about the plans and protocols that the centre would be taking. One of the Stellenbosch residents elected to remain anonymous, while the other one is Carlene Isaacs whose mother was at Huis Ebenhaeser. Her mother’s funeral took place on 23 June and she passed away due to Covid-19.

They said that they had heard the health care workers do not get screened, or when they do that it is not monitored properly. One of the health care workers allegedly told them to check on their family members at the centre because things were not going well. The worker said that they were forced to keep quiet about conditions and come to work.

This is not the first time concerns have been raised about the health protocols and safety of health care workers at Huis Ebenhaeser.

Ciunza Valdaise, the manager at Huis Ebenhaeser, has said that all these allegations are untrue. He claimed they told families when their family members had gone for a Covid-19 test, as well as informing them when the family member tested positive. He said that the centre takes all the necessary precautionary measures and follows protocol.

He mentioned that they are a frail care facility, thus they have a lot of vulnerable people in their care and many have underlying conditions. Valdaise said that families should complain directly to Huis Ebenhaeser, rather than on Facebook. “If we were wrong, we’ll look at it.”

He confirmed that of the 41 people in their care who have been infected with Covid-19, 11 passed away, 14 recovered and 16 are still active cases. 18 of their employees were tested of which none passed away. 15 of them recovered and 3 are still active cases. There are 135 people at Huis Ebenhaeser in total. Stellenbosch’s most recent death toll due to the Covid-pandemic stood at 32, meaning that they have contributed to more than a third of Stellenbosch’s Covid-related deaths.

Both of the emplyees said that they were not that upset about the Covid-19 itself, but rather because there was no honesty and it felt like the illness was hidden from them. “I’m not blaming them for Covid-19, but for how they dealt with it,” said one of them. Jacobs said that Huis Ebenhaeser only directly confirmed that her mother, who had already passed away by then, was Covid positive when the undertakers came to remove the body. They then had to provide the information as this affects how the corpse is handled.

She explained that she had to phone the centre three times before they told her that her mother had passed away. She said the centre claimed that they had only recently found out that her mother had been Covid positive, yet when the undertakers took her mother’s corpse, it had already been bubble wrapped, as if to prevent the disease from spreading.

Both residents raised concerns about the remaining elderly people at Huis Ebenhaeser who they fear will pass away if an investigation does not happen soon. “We need to step in, otherwise all our elderly people will die,” said one of the residents.

“With elderly people being a vulnerable group, Western Cape Government Health’s healthcare workers have been in touch with Huis Ebenhaeser since before the first case of COVID-19 in the province. We have provided clear guidelines on Covid-19 prevention and a team held educational sessions at the facility to ensure that staff are prepared,” said Sandra Maritz, communications officer for the Cape Winelands district of the Western Cape Department of Health.

She also referred us to the Department of Social Development, “who is the custodian of old age homes”. This department was contacted, but did not reply in time. They have promised in the past to launch an investigation into Huis Ebenhaeser’s conditions.