War Memorial Hospital takeover opens new battlefronts in Nakuru politics

A section of Nakuru residents outside War Memorial Hospital against a court order reversing the takeover of the hospital by the county government on November 1, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Satndard]

The forcible takeover of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital by the Nakuru County government has come with a heavy cost, as three patients are said to have lost their lives due to apparent disruption of treatment.

The hospital resumed operations on Tuesday afternoon after the county government withdrew its askaris and the goons who had been stationed at the premises.

The withdrawal happened a few hours after the matter was escalated to the attention of President William Ruto.

Highly placed sources intimated to the Sunday Standard that the President was also briefed about attempts by the county government to use some officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in Nakuru to harass the hospital directors.

A number of the hospital board members had been issued with summons by the DCI officers asking them to report to their office over investigations relating to the operations of the War Memorial Hospital.

The hospital’s lawyers advised the directors not to honour the summons, which they said amounted to harassment and intimidation as the matter was still active in court.

On Thursday afternoon, the DCI withdrew the summons without any explanation.

When the Sunday Standard sought to know the status of the summons, our reporters were referred to the Rift Valley regional Police Commander, Samuel Ndanyi, who said he was away on official duties and could not comment on the matter.

The hospital’s board of management said two of the victims were undergoing dialysis at the facility, while the third patient was in critical condition. The county staff invaded the premises and ordered the hospital staff out, and the patient died while being evacuated to a hospital in Nairobi.

Dr Simon Mwangi, who is a member of the board and its spokesperson said the relatives of the deceased person had communicated about the deaths of their loved ones to the hospital administration.

The medic added that he hoped that the relatives who were still grieving would have the courage to come out in the open and share their plight with the public. Dr Mwangi said 18 patients were admitted to the hospital when the invasion occurred.

But Nakuru County Secretary Samuel Mwaura, who spearheaded the takeover and subsequent closure of the hospital, denied any patient died.

“Those making those allegations of death of patients must prove them. We carried out the transfers of patients professionally. We transferred some of the patients to Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital Annex, which takes over the management of War Memorial Hospital,” said Dr Mwaura.

“Some patients were taken from general wards to high-dependency units. We did not want to take any chances with our parents. No one died during the takeover,” he denied.

At least one of the relatives of a person who died during the takeover requested the Sunday Standard to give them time to mourn before commenting on the matter.

“We would like to talk about that but please give us time to mourn our father, then we will comment,” said a member of a family who did not wish to be named.

The hospital director said that 52 other patients had been scheduled to undertake dialysis at the facility every week.

The 44-bed capacity hospital employs 200 workers and five resident doctors.

The institution is located a few hundred metres from the State House, and a portion of its 25-acre piece of land has over the years been used by the government as parking for buses and other vehicles used by various delegations visiting the State House.

Former presidents Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta have been landing on the ground using helicopters whenever they visited.

Mwangi further said that the hospital had suffered a loss of over Sh200,000 following the theft of some equipment, including some computer monitors, following the invasion of the hospital premises by the county-sponsored goons.

The matter has over the past two weeks, snowballed into a major political conflict in the county, pitting the allies of Governor Susan Kihika against a section of political leaders opposed to her leadership and management style.

Among leaders who launched an assault on the county government were Nakuru Senator Tabitha Karanja, Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria, on whose constituency the hospital is located and former Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, who had been appointed as a Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for lands before the appointment was quashed by the court.

Both Senator Karanja and Gikaria said they were in the process of filing petitions in the Senate and the National Assembly, where they sit over the conduct of the county government.

Tabitha criticised the county executive for the takeover, saying it was unnecessary and wondered why “ the sudden high interest in the facility.”

“This county government has failed in the health sector, but it still wants to take over one of the best-managed private hospitals, and this raises a major alarm,” she said

She is in the process of filing a petition to the senate to seek answers on why the county government decided to take over the facility that was performing far better than those run by the county government.

“I am in the process of filing the petition. We want the senate to investigate the takeover and establish the motive behind it,” she told the Sunday Standard.

Gikaria also spoke of taking a motion to the National Assembly saying the decision to shut down the hospital was unlawful and insensitive, especially to the workers, patients and their kin. 

The leaders faulted the county officials for engaging in a ‘thuggish and barbaric manner’ in its attempt to take over War Memorial Hospital and urged that the rule of law be adhered to.

An official with the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council (KMPDC), which regulates health facilities, expressed anger at the county government’s action, saying it was in contravention of the law and violated patients’ rights.

The official, who nevertheless declined to be quoted in the press as the hospital had not formally filed a complaint with the council, said if there was a need to have the patients transferred to another facility it ought to have been done under the supervision of KMPDC .

“The mandate of regulating hospitals falls within the KMPDC ambit, and any malpractice reported on the part of a health facility can only be reported to us to take action. It is unlawful and unethical for county officials to invade a registered hospital and chase away staff and patients,” the official added.

On October 27, the top county government officials, with the backing of armed police officers invaded the hospital at night and ordered its closure. The officials ordered the staff and patients out of the facility.

Some of the patients were transferred to the neighbouring Annex Hospital, which has been under the management of the county government against their will and without the supervision of their doctors.

The county officials argued that the 99-year land lease issued to the hospital by the government had expired and that it had in essence assumed the ownership of the hospital land and buildings.

The board of management obtained a court order on October 31, directing the county government to vacate the premises, but the stand-off continued as county askaris backed by a large group of hired goons barred the staff from accessing the facility.

The takeover of the hospital elicited a barrage of criticism and anger from a cross-section of leaders and members of the public who argued that the conduct of the devolved unit was in violation of the law and undermined private investment in the county.

The recent spat between the management of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital and the county government marked yet another milestone in the 50-year-old controversy revolving around the ownership of the private hospital between the board and government authorities.