Health workers at Maphisa District Hospital (MDH) in Matobo, Matabeleland South, have accused the District Medical Officer (DMO) and Matron of capturing the health facility and running it as their personal fiefdom for at least seven years, frustrating members of staff some of whom have since quit.
Located 100km south of Bulawayo, MDH, which is the biggest referral centre in Matobo, is headed by the DMO Dr Matthew Mthunzi and Matron Celestina Matonsi, and ironically the former is married to the latter’s daughter, Sisasenkosi, who is a nurse at the same hospital.
Medical sources at the hospital, who declined to be named for fear of victimisation told CITE that staff members were frustrated by levels of maladministration with the ‘all-powerful’ Matonsi, taking advantage of being a mother-in-law to the DMO, who literally controls the hospital and interferes with the doctors’ work, making the work environment very toxic.
Matonsi, whom health workers accused of installing herself as the matriarch of the institution, is said to have assumed the ‘special powers’ in the early 2000s when she acted as the head of the institution at that time when there were no doctors at the health facility.
“The multitude of problems at our institution have their roots in a relationship of workers,” said a health worker at the hospital.
“It is quite a unique hospital, here the head of the station, the District Medical Officer Dr. Mthunzi is son-in-law to Matron Matonsi. Matron Matonsi is head of the nursing staff. Matron Matonsi exercises a lot of power even in areas that she shouldn’t, even interfering with doctors’ work.”
The staff said it had become very clear to them that Matonsi, who has crossed swords with some doctors could even step on their toes with impunity considering that on several occasions, complaints about her modus operandi had been raised with Dr Mthunzi with no action being taken.
“The hospital has a DHE (district hospital executive) which is supposed to make decisions about hospital matters,” said the health worker.
“It is a known fact in the DHE that if Matron Matonsi is opposed to whatever the DHE would have agreed there wouldn’t be any implementation.”
The DHE, chaired by the DMO, comprises the DMO himself, District Nursing Officer (DNO), District Hospital Administrator (DHSA), District Health Environmental Officer (DEHO), Pharmacist, and Nutritionist. DHE is chaired by DMO.
A strong monetary factor is said to be driving Matonsi to want to control everything about the hospital.
“Matron Matonsi is the hospital focal person on almost all programmes that the Ministry (Health and Child Care) partners with various NGOs,” said the health worker.
“These programmes inject funds to allow their different operations. Some of the funds are used to pay allowances for hospital staff participating in the programmes. This allows Matron Matonsi to get allowances from all the various programmes”.
Matonsi’s actions, health workers said have resulted in inefficiencies some of which could have been avoided had she been cooperating.
“We have a lot of capable cadres that could assist her to run these programmes but she prefers to control all the programmes as they have a monetary gain on her part,” said the health worker.
“Furthermore, by being the focal person of these programs she chooses who should go. The criterion to which nurses go for these programs has nothing to do with merit, it’s all to do with rewarding nurses who bootlick her and punishing those who she perceives as not pulling along. This has resulted in a small clique of nurses enjoying benefits from various programmes whilst others are side-lined.
The health worker explained further: “The nursing staff at the hospital is very disgruntled and extremely frightened, resulting in many preferring to leave. The truth is that the nurses who enjoy the privilege of going to various programmes/workshops pay a ‘gratitude fee’ to the matron. If you don’t surrender some funds the privileges will be stopped and a new nurse will be chosen.”
What is further frustrating to the staff at the hospital is that relevant authorities at the provincial level are said to be aware of the problems emanating from the DMO and matron relationship but somehow choose to turn a blind eye to it.
“Recently, hospital staff filed a grievance against DMO after he had shut them out of the census and voter registration programmes, said the health worker.
“I have learned these people, the real reason why people were not allowed to go for these programs is that the DMO and Matron could not be part of the programs because of their high ranks. Furthermore, they didn’t choose who was going for the programs, an HR officer had made the list of cadres that could go.”
The health worker said the workers’ grievances were ignored, adding retribution was bound to follow later.
Staff members, especially nurses who are frustrated by their working environment, have either quit the institution or asked for transfers.
“Maphisa district hospital (MDH) is a public hospital but has been run like a family institution with Matron Matonsi as the matriarch,” decried another health worker.
“In the early 2010s, her son was the DMO. When he left in 2014, her son-in-law, became the DMO, to date. The matron’s daughter now works at MDH as a nurse.
The health worker said although the matron’s core duty is to supervise nurses, she overreaches to her mandate and practically controls the hospital mainly through fear, intimidation, and by proxy of her son-in-law’s office.
“For example, it’s not uncommon to have decisions by the DHE, chaired by the DMO, reversed or simply ignored after the meeting, presumably if the matron is in disagreement.”
The health worker said it was not surprising that Matobo has often been cited by the Ministry of Health and Child Care head office as one of the districts lagging in the implementation of national health policies and programmes for no apparent reason.
“This is rife in the OI/ART/HIV Department where the matron happens to be the District Focal Person,” said the health worker.
“It’s not a surprise then, that records are usually in shambles or HIV clients are delayed interventions that other citizens are enjoying elsewhere in Zimbabwe. It stems from the matron’s unusual resistance to change and working with others. She has a trait of wanting absolute control, for reasons best known to her.”
Some employees, the health worker said have resorted not to voicing their concerns for fear of retribution.
“In last month’s Quarterly Review meeting, several HODs (heads of departments) raised the same issue of cadres being side-lined in hospital rated work based on favouritism and it was cited as one of the major reasons for Matobo losing staff to other Districts and organisations,” said the health worker.
“Apart from the economy, the unfavourable working setup at MDH is a major cause of staff leaving. MDH has one of the largest staff turnovers in Zimbabwe. The staff that does remain, is highly demotivated. Perhaps as leaders, staff expect such offices as the DMO and Matron to advocate on their behalf but the relationship is mainly that of gamesmanship and making life terrible for cadres who raise these issues and also those seen to be resistant to the pair’s ways.
The health worker said most of the issues, pre-date current workers, have been raised before even in MOHCC Head Office corridors, with no resolution.
“The overall result is a dysfunctional hospital, where HODs are undermined and resolutions are not implemented efficiently and the general public suffers from lack of organised public health in Matobo.”
A nurse who has since parted ways with MDH told CITE maladministration and abuse of office were at their peak with the DMO and matron taking government vehicles to their rural home in Makorokoro, Mangwe leaving no vehicle to service the station.
“A lot of mishaps are taking place there,” said the nurse.
“Every staff member is highly intimidated. Experienced nurses ran away from the so-called hospital. They (DMO and Matron) have made a throne there, and we called it Kingdom of Darkness. I remember last year, seven nurses were forced to move out due to poor and tyrannical management.”
Matonsi said she was not allowed to talk to the media when asked to respond to a cocktail of allegations raised against her.
“Can you talk to the Deputy Minister [of Health and Child Care] Dr. John Mangwiro, I am not allowed to talk to you”
However, repeated efforts to get a comment from Mangwiro did not yield any result.
On the other hand, Dr Mthunzi said he was not aware of the staff’s concerns, which he said had never been brought to him.
“I have never received such a report; it has not been documented; we have not received it; I am getting it from you,” he said.
Asked if it was true that he works with his wife and mother-in-law at the same institution had this to say: “Yes, it is true, we started working there a long time.” There are some things that you might not be aware of. Do you know that Mangwiro was here at the hospital on Saturday (7 May 2022)? If you phone him, he can explain better.”
Mthunzi said he was not surprised by the allegations which he said could be emanating from a bitter doctor and some of his friends.
“As I speak now, there is a doctor, who is now moving from Maphisa letters were written to him to the effect that he should move from Maphisa to Mpilo because of some things that he was doing,” said Mthunzi.
“So now, as you are writing this story, I am not surprised because I think it’s that bitter guy and some of his friends. The other thing, they have rushed to newspapers, why did they leave me as the head of the station, why did they leave the Provincial Medical Director, why did they leave the secretary for health, why did they leave, the Deputy Minister himself.”
The DMO however denied shutting the staff out of the census and voter registration, adding he never ignored their grievances.
“I responded to the issue of the census,” he said.
“I even made a way for some to go. As I speak some people in the admin ended up going to the census. We had an accountant who was requested to be part of the census; I facilitated all that.”
On the abuse of government vehicles, Mthunzi dismissed the matter as unfounded “nice interesting stories” to write.
“There are no cars in Maphisa such as the DMO ideally I should be having my vehicle but I am using my private car,” he said.
“How can I go and park a car in Makorokoro? There is only one car and an ambulance. Anyway, it will tarnish me but I have been tarnished before in the newspapers.”
Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr. Rudo Chikodzore said she could not comment on the issue.
“I am actually hearing it from you and therefore I cannot comment about it,” she said.
“If you are in touch with some of those people tell them to follow proper procedures.”