Almost half of state-funded drug rehab beds in Gauteng under threat

Organisations are “under investigation” but have not been told why

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The Gauteng Department of Social Development has decided to withdraw funding from at least five drug rehab organisations. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

  • Gauteng risks losing more than half its current capacity for state-funded drug rehabs in the province.
  • The provincial social development department has moved to defund at least five organisations providing inpatient treatment.
  • The organisations have accrued debt to keep going without state subsidies and say they will soon have to close their doors.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development has decided to defund more than half of its existing capacity for inpatient drug rehabilitation in the province.

The department funded 571 beds in 13 non-profit organisations in the 2023/24 financial year, but at least five organisations, with 246 of these beds, will not be funded in the 2024/25 financial year.

The five organisations to be defunded – Westview Clinic Empilweni Treatment Centre, Golden Harvest Treatment Centre, Freedom Recovery Centre and
Jamela Rehabilitation Centre – have been providing inpatient treatment for several years, but they have not received subsidies since the end of the last financial year.

Organisations GroundUp spoke to said they received letters from the department in the past few weeks informing them that they would not receive funding due to ongoing investigations. But they had not been told why they are under investigation, they said.

Representatives of FSG Africa, a forensic auditing firm appointed by the department, briefly visited some of the centres earlier this year, but the centres received no feedback on the progress or outcome of these investigations.

The auditors spent less than two hours at most of the facilities, asking only a few questions before leaving, the organisations said.

The organisations said they are yet to receive a report on the findings of the investigations. Queries they sent to the department have gone unanswered.

In previous years, the funding process was managed at a regional level, but this financial year it was centralised, cutting out the regional officials who would usually be in direct contact with the organisations. This has caused catastrophic delays.

Several of the organisations have been operating without departmental funding since March, depleting their savings and taking on debt, and having to short-pay staff salaries.

The department’s spokesperson Themba Gadebe confirmed to GroundUp that the organisations are under investigation, but did not provide details on the allegations.

In October 2022, Premier Panyaza Lesufi said treatment for substance abuse disorder was a priority. Yet the department has decided to defund beds in treatment centres without a clear plan to replace the lost capacity.

Gadebe said the department’s state-owned facility in Cullinan, near Pretoria, which has 288 beds, is undergoing renovation to increase its capacity. But he did not provide further details or timelines for completion.

Sedibeng’s only inpatient centres face closure

The only two drug rehabilitation centres with an inpatient programme in the Sedibeng region of Gauteng, with 116 funded beds between them, will be defunded this financial year.

One of these, Freedom Recovery Centre, was funded last year for 52 of its 94 beds (the remainder are for private patients). CEO Derick Matthews says when they received the department’s letter on 23 May “our world came crashing down”. What shocked him most was that there had been no warning that funding would stop.

Freedom Recovery Centre received a visit from the forensic auditors in March, who spent just two hours at the centre. They asked to see vehicles that the centre had supposedly received from the department.

“I was shocked by this request because we have never received vehicles from the department. But the auditor said that, according to their list, we had received vehicles from the department,” said Matthews.

“We are being punished for something. But we don’t even know what our transgression is,” he said.

On Monday, Freedom Recovery Centre began the process of discharging patients who were nearing the end of their treatment plans, as they can no longer afford to care for or feed them.

“We’ve had to take out loans for the past few months because of the delays in finalising service-level agreements and paying subsidies,” said Matthews. The centre has racked up more than R2-million in debt.

“Our staff are entering the third month of working without pay. Eskom is going to cut our electricity some time this week, because we are in arrears, and then we won’t even have water, because we rely on electricity to pump our boreholes. There are no funds left to keep the centre going,” said Matthews.

He said the centre will have no choice but to close completely in the coming weeks.

The other inpatient programme in the Sedibeng region, Jamela Recovery Centre, funded for 64 beds in 2023/24, faces a similar fate. CEO George Sibanda said they were relying on food donations from community members to feed their patients.

“We have been fully funded by the department since 2018 and our services are offered at no cost,” Sibanda said.

“We always had a backlog of patients. Our waiting list is sitting at 60 people so we were relieved when the department informed us that we would be getting additional beds in March this year. But what we don’t understand is how we must now provide a service to those patients if the department is not funding us this year?” said Sibanda.

Jamela also received a visit from the forensic auditors in March.

Despite not receiving any subsidies this financial year, Sibanda said the centre has been operating at full capacity.

“The department continued to refer people to us and we couldn’t turn them away,” he said.

Social workers at the centre have had to use their own money to pay for petrol for the centre’s car, which they use for outreach programmes.

Department spokesperson Themba Gadebe said that the closure of both centres in Sedibeng was not a concern as “the department prefers the placement of individuals within inpatient facilities far from where they reside, to limit the risk of them checking out or being contacted by those within their substance use networks.”

TOPICS:  Harm reduction Health Social Development mismanagement

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