Hospital of last resort in Pakistan faces closure
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — Mohammed Aqeel spent weeks at home in Pakistan waiting for death after suffering a debilitating spinal cord injury in a car crash before friends suggested he come to St. Joseph’s Hospice on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad.
Now 13 years later, his life and those of some 40 others who live on its grounds might be changed forever as this hospital of last resort faces closure over its rising debts.
“I will helplessly weep and what else can I do?” Aqeel asked, tears rolling down his face.
Since 1964, St. Joseph’s Hospice has treated hundreds of maimed and sick patients, overwhelmingly Muslims, who had nowhere else to go even as Pakistan experienced two military coups, wars in neighboring Afghanistan and a dangerous rise in militancy. But as wealthy donors and foreign benefactors fled the violence and unrest, so too did the endowments the hospice relies on to treat some 100 patients who visit daily.
Pakistan’s abysmal health care sector is starved for money, the latest technology and drugs — and those who can’t afford care have turned to St. Joseph’s. The hospice has a monthly budget of about 1.5 million rupees — $15,000 — but officials there say they have been facing a shortfall of half a million rupees (about $5,000) a month. They’ve borrowed money and cut costs as low as they can, but there’s not much more they can do.
“Initially, we managed to handle the situation, but now the situation is alarming,” said Margaret Walsh, an Irish nun who has run the facility as the chief administrator since 2009. “I feel pain when I think about the worst scenario of closing down the hospital.”
Rising costs from ever-increasing utility bills has deeply affected St. Joseph’s, said Rehmat Michael Hakim, chairman of the hospital’s executive committee that oversees the functions of the hospice. He said the hospice relies on generators during electricity outages to warm paralyzed patients.
“If we don’t use electricity heaters in winter, the patients will die of cold,” Hakim said.
A priest inspired by visiting Mother Teresa in India built St. Joseph’s. Despite the discrimination that Pakistan’s Christian community often faces, the country has a long history of Christian missionary schools and hospitals providing services to Pakistanis across the country. Many of Pakistan’s elite attended missionary schools, and the schools and hospitals that the missionaries created are well-respected.
Even with Pakistan facing militant attacks, those at St. Joseph’s say they’ve never faced any security threat. Police routinely tell them to raise the height of the concrete wall surrounding the hospice, something employees there shrug off over the cost involved.
But the threat of attack has seen embassies urge their staff to avoid attending fundraisers at the hospice, officials say, as Pakistan’s wealthy also remain cautious about heading out to such events. They hope to raise the money to continue operating the 60-bed hospice and keeping its staff of doctors, nurses, aides and three nuns on staff.
Otherwise, as Hakim asks: “Where will these patients go if this institution is closed?”
St. Joseph’s Hospice: www.stjosephshospice.com.pk