Holy Family Hospital – There is Room in this Inn!

From Joan’s Rome courtesy of EWTN Global Catholic Network

One of the most memorable moments of my Christmas trip to Bethlehem took place the morning after Christmas.

Before I left for the holidays, I was talking to an American friend in the curia, telling him of my plans for Bethlehem. Msgr. Reinert told me that, if I had time, I should visit Holy Family Maternity Hospital which is run by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He said it was quite special and that the Holy See Mission to the United Nations, when he worked there, supported this hospital.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I became to visit the hospital. And then I thought: “Perhaps I can find out who the first little boy is to have been born on Christmas Day in Bethlehem, 2000 years after Christ was born there!” In Rome I went in search of gifts for newborns and bought two small but lovely silver icons of Madonna and Child, one trimmed in blue braid, the other in pink. For the hospital I bought a very beautiful tapestry of Madonna and Child.

And so, armed with these gifts, I went to Holy Family Hospital in mid-morning on December 26. It seemed quite an impressive structure when I entered the front gate to the compound but I would soon discover what a truly amazing place it is. I went to the reception desk and asked for Dr. Robert Tabash, a Bethlehem native son who is the hospital administrator. Asked if I had an appointment, I said “no” and then handed the young lady my card and told her what I hoped to do. Her eyes lit up, she left for a minute and when she returned, she ushered me into Dr. Tabash’s office and within minutes we were chatting over coffee, talking about Palestine and politics but mainly about the hospital. I told him how I hoped to meet the first baby boy born on Christmas Day in Bethlehem, adding that I had gifts for the first little boy and little girl and one for the hospital.

Dr. Tabash, justifiably proud of the hospital, took me on an extended tour of the facilities, enthusiastically explaining each floor, each delivery room, every nook and cranny. The hospital today is in a magnificent building complex on spacious grounds and includes a beautiful chapel, all built around a couryard just over half a mile from the grotto of the nativity where baby Jesus was born.

The hospital’s mission statement says: “Holy Family Hospital is dedicated to providing quality care for women and infants, without regard to religion or national origins. Holy Family Hospital is guided by the beliefs and moral traditions of the Catholic Church, respectful of individual differences, reflecting the ideals and traditional values of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Sovereign Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and Malta and their concern for the poor and sick. Holy Family Hospital is committed to continuing education as a means of ensuring quality patient care.”

Holy Family was originally an 80-bed general hospital and orphanage built in 1882 by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. When it closed in 1985 for socio-political reasons, the nuns entrusted the renovation and management to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. After five years of remodelling, it reopened in 1990. The first baby was born there on February 26, 1990.

Today, this ultra modern complex, with a staff of 140, boasts 63 beds including 7 in fully-equipped delivery rooms and an 18-incubator, state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit, the only one in the region. In fact, it provides the only medical care in the region for high risk pregnancies. The staff consists of 9 consultant doctors, 38 resident doctors, 76 midwives and nurses, 7 paramedical staff and 40 administration and support staff.

Dr. Tabash took me on a wonderful tour, as you will see. This is one of the seven delivery rooms – and you can see the beautiful views of the Judean hillside from the window.

This is the nurses’ station on the delivery room floor.

Dr. Tabash told me the hospital “is dedicated to providing the best pre and post-natal care for women and infants, regardless of ethnicity or religion.” He said “patients are asked to pay what they can afford with the help of a social worker.” Costs are far less than they would be in the U.S. but Holy Family relies heavily on the Knights of Malta and other benefactors to meet the costs for staff salaries, equipment, etc. The hospital recruits and trains native-born doctors and nurses. Here are two of the nurses who showed us the newborns.

He pointed me to the hospital’s website and told me, quoting the site, that “the modern equipment in the hospital has been offered for a large part by special donations from governments or non-governmental organizations.” He said, “Due to the political conditions, the economic situation is worsening everyday. There is over 70% unemployment in the Bethlehem area. Add to this the fact there is no social welfare and no medical insurance, so patients are asked to pay what they can afford with the control and help of a social worker. The remaining running costs must be covered by regular fundraising campaigns organized by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta or by private donors.” The Holy Family Hospital Association in Washington, D.C. assists the hospital in raising funds.

The hospital provides a wide array of services in bright, cheerful surroundings including pre- and post-natal care, delivery, outpatient services and education about childbirth. It even has a daily outreach program including a mobile clinic for remote areas. Since 1990 over 40,000 babies have been born in Bethlehem?s Holy Family Hospital. This is one of the examining rooms where expectant mothers are visited by their doctors.

Dr. Tabash pointed out this plaque on our tour.

And now, the moment you have been waiting for! Bethlehem, where Jesus was born over 2000 years ago, welcomed another baby boy on Christmas Day 2008 – Rami! He was just starting to yawn as I took the first photo – and the second picture is Rami and his lovely, and obviously happy, mother. Dr. Tabash explained to her in Arabic the gift I brought from Rome. I was fortunate to have met this little guy because mothers and new babies only remain at the hospital for about 24 hours: Rami and his Mom were just about to leave when Dr. Tabash phoned the nurses’ station and told them there was a visitor for Rami!

Just down the hall I met the first little girl to be born on Christmas Day – Mona. What a sweetheart!

I got an email yesterday from Dr. Tabash and the really big news for Holy Family occurred a week ago. Quadruplets were born on January 30! Last Friday evening two boys and two girls were born to Maha in her 27th week of pregnancy, weighing between 2 and 2.2 pounds. Their general condition is stable but the babies need assisted ventilation and are expected to stay in the neo-natal intensive care unit for six weeks. “We hope and pray they will grow healthy,” said Dr. Tabash.

When I visited the neo-natal intensive care unit, I was immensely impressed. However, I did not take any photos out of respect for the mother who was there with her baby in an incubator, a little boy born 50 days earlier and weighing 2 pounds at the time. He was doing beautifully on December 26th, when I saw him, according to Dr. Tabash.

I hope you enjoyed sharing these moments with me at Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. Say a prayer for every baby who will be born – anywhere in the world – as you read this blog! God bless!