From the news desk

Inside Valkenberg: The patients and admission process


In celebrating 125 years of delivering service to patients needing psychiatric treatment, Valkenberg Hospital launched its newly refurbished main historic administration building.

Here’s a look into the dynamics behind the operation of the facility, the admission process and the experiences of those who work at the facility.

Assistant Manager of Valkenberg, Janette Isaacs, who has been working at the facility for 25 years and started training at the facility in 1988, says that working with psychiatric patients is not easy. She reckons one should have a passion for the occupation and also, have a clear understanding of the patient’s culture and respect it.

She primarily deals with forensic patients, whose admission has been ordered by court.

“I work mostly in the forensics ward, which are admissions coming from court, where they are observed for 30 days and, depending on their condition, they will be sent back to court for a hearing.”

“It is difficult working with psychiatric patients, [since] it is not for everybody; you need to understand the patients and their culture,” she said.

Sister Isaacs also explains the process of the admission to Valkenberg, stating that there’s a waiting list for those looking to be admitted.

“They [the patients] go on a waiting list after appearing in court. Sometimes the waiting list is extremely long. If the facility is unable to do an observation within the 30 day period, the facility would then request an extension. Thereafter, the court will decide if the accused will become a state patient or serve a sentence in prison,” she says.

She also says that for patients who have been referred by court order, their rank on the waiting list is dependent on the crime committed.

“The waiting list is prioritised based on the crime that the  accused has committed,” she added.

MEC for  Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, says that patient observations can be done at other psychiatric facilities, before they are admitted to Valkenberg. The facility specialises mostly in state patients, which are patients who committed crimes as a result of psychiatric problem.

“We have psychiatry units at other facilities where patients can go for observations and even stay there for one month to six weeks. Valkenberg is specialises in forensic patients” she says.

Mbombo says that mental health is like any other illness and needs to be treated.

“We have these other facilities so that patients can be treated closer to their home. The facilities are not meant to institutionalise patients. It’s only when the patient is on chronic treatment – and once the patient is stabilised, the patient goes back home. Mental health is like any other illness,” she added.

She also says that provision for children is made at other facilities, because Valkenberg only accommodates adult patients.

“We don’t know the state of mind of the patients who’ve committed a crime. It usually takes longer to observe a patient of this nature, so we don’t want children being exposed to that,” she explained.

What’s more is that global statistics shows that by 2030, the leading illness for the cause of death amongst young people will be depression.

Mbombo expands on the reasoning behind this and also explains treatment at the facility in a bit more detail.

“Currently, interpersonal violence is the major cause of death amongst young people, because of substance abuse,” she says.

“Patients come to the facility with a package of illnesses…the patient comes with diabetes,  anxiety, depression, and HIV, so that is why our approach is to integrate and screen mental health in all other illnesses that the patients present,” she added.

“Treatment might not necessarily include medication, but it can also be a referral to a psychologist or a psychiatrist.”

Meanwhile, Victor Manzi from Valkenberg Hospital has been working with psychiatric patients since 1974 and describes the occupation as “very interesting”. He says that people should evaluate their reasons for venturing into a specific job, before making a career choice.

“The job is very interesting because the patients are unpredictable. They bring richness into my life. Sometimes I wonder if they’re not comedians, because they make me laugh so much. One should definitely have a passion for this job before venturing into this career path,” he says.

Operational manager in the Therapeutic Unit at Valkenberg, Lindiwe Magepola , who has been working in psychiatry for 23 years echos Manzi’s sentiments and says that it is rewarding to work in the field of mental health.

“It is remarkable to see them [the patients] come in, [initially] being very distressed and then leaving the facility, ready to take over the world.”

VOC [Ra-ees Moerat]

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