Clinic’s heated debate

Staff nurse at the Hout Bay clinic, Gradner Leonard, explains the difficulties at the facility.

The run-up to this week’s long-awaited presentation by the Western Cape Health Department on the proposed community day care centre clinic on Hout Bay Common had been fraught with tension.

Emotive exchanges on social media groups, innumerable emails fired back and forth among key stakeholders and a last-minute venue change had all conspired to make the meeting on Tuesday January 17 a potentially explosive affair.
As it turned out, that is exactly what happened. Jeers from the floor, unsolicited questions, tugging of the designated speaker’s microphone and shouts for some audience members to “go back to England” interrupted proceedings at various points of the evening.

Last year, the provincial Department of Health announced it favoured the site of the old bowling green and a piece of adjacent land on the common for the day care centreclinic, after exploring the viability of a number of other sites for the facility.

Proponents of the common site believe its central location would better serve Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg residents, and provide essential health-care services the existing clinics in those areas cannot. Those opposed to the development say it will destroy the character of the common and rob Hout Bay of its only “green lung”, which has also been earmarked for the United Park of Hout Bay recreation and lifestyle area.

It was hoped that Tuesday night’s meeting, attended by representatives from the health department, Liz Huckle of the Hout Bay Health Forum, ward councillor Roberto Quintas and more than 300 residents, would address concerns and clear up any perceived misconceptions about the centre.

Originally scheduled to be held at the Hout Bay Museum, Mr Quintas announced earlier on Tuesday that the venue had been changed to the Kronendal Primary School hall to accommodate the high number of residents expected to attend.
Community members Those behind the United Park of Hout Bay project had intended to stage their own presentation half an hour before the health department meeting scheduled for 6.30pm, but the late venue change seemingly had interfered with these scotched those plans.

However, during his opening address, as co-chair of the presentation, Mr Quintas was asked why the meeting was running late. He answered that the health department meeting had “nothing to do” with the United Park presentation.

Such interjections from the floor were to set the tone for the evening.

Taking the podium, Ms Huckle said it had become difficult to support staff and patients at the two existing clinics, even with upgrades to the facilities financed by the Rotary Club several years ago.

“We’ve tried very hard, but because our population is growing there just isn’t any space. It is just not enough,” she said.

She also implored the audience to put themselves in the shoes of these clinics’ patients.

“How would you like to have a circumcision or pap smear with just a screen between you and the public? Our consultation and waiting rooms are overcrowded. Now the department has realised our plight.”

Dr Kathryn Grammer, director of the Southern/Western substructure of the health department, was called on to give an overview of the clinic and why it was required. However, an irate audience member accused Dr Grammer of going “off topic”. The community had gathered to discuss the location of the clinic and nothing more, he said.

Mr Quintas intervened, saying social media posts had clearly indicated a presentation would be given by the department and such interjections were “disrespectful” to audience members who had come to listen to the speakers as well as the dignitaries.

Continuing, Dr Grammer revealed ambulance transfers at the Hangberg clinic were a nightmare, that there was no parking for staff and patients, there were insufficient consultation rooms and the pharmacy was too small.

Patients frequently had to miss work and move between the Hangberg and Main Road clinics because neither offered the full package of services. The new facility would run at a cost of R16 million or slightly more a year. While that equalled the combined costs of the two existing clinics, the new clinic would offer a full range of services.

The proposal’s chief architect, Duncan Rendell, said the common was the most suitable of several sites looked at for the clinic.

“We would apply the same criteria to anywhere in the province. We looked at the site behind the fire station, but it was not acceptable because it was not equidistant between IY and Hangberg.

“Many sites were looked at. There was the site next to the Checkers, but it has already been developed for the MyCiTi route,” he said, amid questions from a cross-section of the audience as to why the City had allowed this in the first place.

He said the new facility would be similar to one built in Grassy Park, a double-storey structure. “There is a concern that the remainder of the clinic will be used to eventually turn the day care centre into a hospital, but this will not happen.”

When the floor was opened to the audience, resident Chris Hudson, who is opposed to the centre on the common, said the facility would not be a day-care centre, but a 24-hour facility.

“What I want to know is where this ‘central’ idea (for the clinic) came from. It doesn’t matter whether you have the facility in IY or Hangberg; the taxi fare from Hangberg to IY is R6, and the taxi fare will be the same to the new clinic,” he said.

Resident Nick Armstrong said while no one objected to a new health-care facility, a site had been identified near the beach.

“This dune-management problem is not going to go away, so I would suggest that this gets sorted out and then that site is considered for the centre,” Mr Armstrong said.

Another audience member, Carmen du Toit, was “embarrassed to be a resident of Hout Bay tonight”.

“There are a lot of Nimby (Not in My Back Yard) issues. We should stop speaking about three communities in Hout Bay; we are one community,” she said.

“This will be a high-class facility. Please don’t hold up the proposal anymore. We are wasting time.”

Resident David Young was concerned that service delivery protests could turn “nasty” and research had shown such protests were increasing in the country. “The site should have the best security, and the best site for that is behind the fire station,” he said.

Gradner Leonard, a staff nurse at the existing Hout Bay clinic, encouraged the audience to visit it to see the conditions for themselves.

“The facility is so packed. People are dying,” she said, a sentiment echoed by Imizamo Yethu resident Melikhaya Mdubeki who implored residents to “find the kindness in your hearts” to allow the clinic to be built on the common.

Well-known Imizamo Yethu community leader Man-O-Man urged the audience to recognise that the new facility would be about “all of us”.

“The R6 taxi fare has got nothing to do with it. It’s about this facility which is going to benefit everyone,” he said.

Jemimah Birch, one of the proponents of the United Park of Hout Bay project, said the park would improve the physical and emotional health of all Hout Bay residents.

Roscoe Jacobs, of the Hout Bay Civic Association, thanked premier Helen Zille for “showing leadership” in proposing the clinic for Hout Bay.

“We must think about what’s best for everyone. If this facility is built, the two clinics can be used for music lessons that are currently being taught on the common,” he said.

“There is a petition going around for those who oppose the clinic. If people want to take it (the matter) to court, we are poor people who don’t have the resources to go to court. But we will take to the streets,” he said.

Rolfe Eberhard, of the Hout Bay Partnership, believed the evening’s proceedings had show that “clearly we are not one community”.

“I feel a bit embarrassed because every objection has come from a white person. My question is what sacrifice will you make with the building of this site? It is very hard for me to understand.”

The Hangberg Peace and Mediation Forum pledged its support for the proposed location.

“Past and present stabbings and deaths could have been avoided if such a facility and emergency vehicle were immediately available to transport and treat patients,” said forum spokesman Warren Abrahams.

“A family member was recently stabbed and died on the floor due to emergency services not arriving on time and having to come from Victoria Hospital. The stabbing victim lay on the floor waiting for an ambulance for more than an hour.

“The fire station deals with stabbing and other emergencies, but patients get worse or even die on their way to the nearest hospital. They could be treated quickly at the new facility.”