County defies order as it takes over Nakuru War Memorial Hospital

War Memorial Hospital

A section of the War Memorial Hospital in Nakuru.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The county government has come under scrutiny for ignoring court orders stopping it from taking over or interfering with the management of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital.

County officials and armed police officers on Saturday forcefully took over the management of the hospital, ignoring orders issued by Justice Millicent Odeny on October 30,2023. In her ruling, the judge restrained the county government from interfering with the running of the hospital pending the hearing and determination of a case touching on its ownership.

The takeover came a day after the directors of the hospital—Rodger Josslyn and Dr Simon Watene Mwangi—were arrested.

The court order also allowed the hospital staff to access the medical facility pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed by the directors of the facility.

In November 2023,the Environment and Land Court judge also quashed the decision of the Nakuru land registrar to cancel the certificate of lease for the land on which the hospital stands.

“An order of prohibition prohibiting the respondents from dealing in any manner whatsoever, investigating, cancelling, revoking and/or reviewing the certificate of lease of all that property known as Nakuru Municipality block 11/107 duly registered under the name of Nakuru War Memorial Hospital Limited is hereby issued,” she stated.

According to a director of the hospital,this was the second time the county authorities were ignoring court orders.

“The court allowed the hospital to resume operations and stopped anybody from interfering with its operations. But the county has decided to blatantly ignore the court orders and the facility is now under police guard,”the director said.

Prior to the takeover on Saturday, the hospital, which has operated for more than 100 years, was privately owned. It sits on 25 acres of land, which were reverted to the devolved unit following the de-gazettement of the lease title given in the hospital’s name.

The hospital’s management moved to court accusing the government of illegally revoking its lease without notice. It maintained that it was the legal owner of the land. The county says that the lease was supposed to expire in April 2021, but the hospital said the lease was renewed by the Nairobi Lands office for a further 50 years.

Following the take-over, some relatives have opted to transfer their patients to the Nakuru Level Five hospital and other facilities.

The county government has now installed both armed police officers and county enforcement officers to man the facility.

The extension of the lease for 50 years is the main cause of the dispute, with the county government dismissing it as a forgery.

County Secretary Samwel Mwaura, in a press briefing, said the move to deploy its personnel to the hospital was necessitated by the need to ensure the welfare of the patients.

He argued that with the absence of the directors, who are in police custody, chances of patients being neglected were high.

“We are here to monitor what is happening and ensure the patients are being attended to since the arrest of the directors left the employees on their own. As a county government, we have a responsibility of safeguarding the welfare of the patients at the facility,” Dr Mwaura said. He added that the administration was trying to avoid claims of patient neglect, similar to those that emerged during the botched take over last year.

He advised those who have patients at the facility to make arrangements to transfer them to the public wing, whose management is stable and services are running smoothly.

“Since there is a lacuna in the management of this hospital, I would also want to encourage doctors and those with patients to move them to the PGH Annex where we have enough space,” said Dr Mwaura.

The new development has left the more than 300 workers apprehensive about losing their jobs. They have petitioned the county government to consider their fate as taxpayers and parents with dependants as they engage in the dispute.

One worker who did not want to be named said the closure of the hospital would not only disrupt essential healthcare services, but also jeopardise the livelihoods of over 300 families that depend on them.

She called for the release of the hospital directors from custody and urged the county government to engage in a constructive dialogue to find an amicable resolution to the dispute.

“A collaborative approach can benefit both the government and our hospital, ensuring the continued provision of quality healthcare services. Our hospital has consistently been recognised as the hospital of choice in the private sector, and its closure would have a devastating impact on the community’s access to medical care,” said the worker.