President’s Update: Crisis in Bethlehem
Ambassador Michele Burke Bowe
President of Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation
On March 5, 2020 COVID-19 found its way into Bethlehem resulting in a total closure and geographic isolation for the city and surrounding region. All tourists were evacuated, save a small group under quarantine and the checkpoints closed allowing no exits or entries. Every restaurant, hotel, bank and school will be closed for a 30 day state of emergency furloughing all employees without pay. All of the holy sites, places of worship and tourist attractions are also closed. The usual 200,000 Palestinians who cross into Jerusalem to work were furloughed without pay because of the border closure. Today, it is estimated that a mere 10% of the workforce is receiving salaries.
Holy Family Hospital remains open and committed to caring for the most vulnerable mothers and babies of the region. The staff is diminished due to the number of employees who must stay home to take care of children not at school. Additionally, a few staff are quarantined due to some recent travel. One of the operating rooms has been recommissioned as an isolation ward for infected patients. The infection control measures have been stepped up in alignment with Palestinian Health Ministry protocols. The remaining staff are working longer hours and ensuring that the doors of the Hospital are open to all without regard to need or creed. The Hospital remains a cheerful and welcoming place dedicated to the highest standards of care.
Holy Family Hospital began construction to expand our operating wing in March 2019. Construction has halted because the workers are staying home to avoid contamination from the virus.
The economic impact of Covid 19 has quickly devastated the local economy. This in turn greatly impacts the Hospital and Foundation. Given the already fragile economy in Bethlehem, the prospects of several weeks or more without salaries are unimaginable. The current 50% subsidy for all Hospital services which has allowed the families of Bethlehem to access care at the Hospital, will no longer suffice. The social workers who traditionally work closely with poorer families to determine sliding scale payments are already encountering families who don’t have enough money for food, let alone medical care. The risk that women might start to deliver at home to avoid hospital fees is growing.
Holy Family Hospital Foundation is committed to meeting the healthcare needs of the families of Bethlehem. The patient fees for this time with no salary will fall to almost nothing as 75 % of the households who come to the hospital earn less than $800 per month. This means that the Hospital will need to find ways to cut already thin expenses and to look for additional revenue. The Foundation will redouble its efforts to find new private and institutional donors to ensure that the Mothers of Bethlehem can deliver their babies in a safe, clean hospital and that premature and sick newborns will have the chance to survive.
Please keep the Hospital, its staff and the families of the Holy Land in your prayers along with the fundraising success of the Foundation for 2020.