Connecting patients: free Wi-Fi made available in hospital

22 January 2021

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, in Soweto, Johannesburg, is the third largest in the world with 429 buildings, 3,200 beds and 6,760 employees. Every year, there are about 150,000 inpatients and 500,000 outpatients. More than 350 daily admissions – about 70% of the total – are emergencies.

It is a teaching hospital for the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, along with the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital and the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital.

It currently has five dedicated Covid-19 wards but the patients were unable to communicate with friends and family.  As a result, Dr Gloria Teckie, consulting physician, contacted Greg Wilson, CEO of Reflex Solutions, based in nearby Noordwyck.

It resulted in a Wi-Fi project installed free of charge by four companies: Reflex; Mustek, of Midrand, Gauteng; Dark Fibre Africa, Centurion, Gauteng; and ESET, which has offices in Rondebosch, Cape Town.

Mr Wilson said that working in the largest hospital in the Southern hemisphere was not going to be simple: “There was a need for large backhaul, fibre reticulation within the hospital grounds, power over Ethernet (PoE) switching infrastructure, Cat 6 cabling and mounting access points in the Covid-19 wards.”

The company’s head of carriers and access, Rudolf Beets, said: “Ensuring that power is always available to run the system is still a concern, which we are also looking to solve. We do not want to provide a half-baked solution, especially for a humanitarian issue like this.  It has to be a quality service”

And it was important that the work was not intrusive with no interruptions to the operations of the wards or discomfort to patients.

The CEO of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), Thinus Mulder, said: “When we saw the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to provide connectivity to major public health sites in collaboration with Reflex Solutions, we felt compelled to get it done. We are very much aware of how critical connectivity has become as an enabler of essential services for a number of sectors, including, of course, the health sector.” 

DFA is responsible for providing connectivity to the hospital from the Reflex core network, Reflex Solutions is providing the fibre, cabling, switching, labour, internet bandwidth and two Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) – one for hospital guests and one for Doctors and medical personnel, which will be used in the treatment of patients.

Digital security provider, ESET, is providing its software security product model for hospitals and health systems and licences to the software. ESET Channel Manager, Sean Cocks said: “Our security solution for hospitals and the health system supports their financial and operational needs while promoting innovation and transformation to provide value to patients and healthcare professionals. It is the perfect security solution in a case like this”.

Mustek is sponsoring 10 Mercer tablets and 30 Huawei access points (APs) to connect patients, allowing them to stay connected with loved ones through video calls and messaging applications. The Huawei business unit manager at Mustek, Donna Mostert, said: “This is such an emotional thing and we could not but assist.  We did not only want to pay it forward but bring communications as close as possible to patients and put devices in their hands and give them access to multiple communication channels”.

Dr Teckie said: “Medical personnel at Baragwanath are taking heavy strain having to not only manage the physical aspects of the illness, but also the emotional distress of patients unable to communicate with family during their time in hospital.  It is just incredibly humbling that Reflex Solutions decided to help the hospital, showing their selfless desire to assist the medical fraternity and patients in this way”.

Now medical staff are able to help patients communicate via platforms such as WhatsApp or FaceTime.  And staff are also able to use the system to run webinars, meetings and education events.

The business unit manager, end-user computing, at Reflex, Andrew Dobie said: “This is not a once-off project for Chris Hani Baragwanath. We have started preparations with Steve Biko academic hospital in Pretoria to roll out the same fully sponsored solution soon. Our aim is to do the same for other healthcare facilities across the country.”

• The hospital’s name is from those of two men.  John Albert Baragwanath, who planned to make a fortune from gold, instead started a hostel which eventually bore his name and it became the name of a military hospital which opened in 1941. Baragwanath is derived from the Welsh words bara, which means bread, and gwanath which means wheat.   Chris Hani was a prominent activist in the ANC, regularly targeted for assassination, who aided the country’s move to the first democratic elections.  He was widely mourned after he was assassinated outside his home in 1993.  His name was added to that of the hospital in 1997. n