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With a small staff, multitasking is essential. Sister Ann Maria, for example, is convent superior, cook, gardener and X-ray technician. Including the sisters, the hospital team consists of 12 doctors, 18 nurses and 6 support staff.

The hospital has X-ray machines, a computed tomography scanner, intensive care units, ultrasonic imaging devices, incubators and lab facilities — technology unfamiliar to many local residents. Much of the sisters’ early work was spent in the field, educating residents about the new treatments.

“They were totally unaware of modern medical facilities and treatment,” Sister Mercitta said. “We conducted medical camps in the villages and tribal areas. Most of the people were afraid of being tested with modern medical equipment.”

The goal of the bishop and sisters was not only to offer advanced medical treatment to its residents, but also to ensure that such treatment was affordable. “We don’t charge patients who are treated in the general ward,” Mar Lawrence said. For other procedures, patients are charged according to their ability to pay. Most procedures — CT scans and lab tests — cost 50 percent less at Jyothi Hospital than they would at private hospitals. (To help meet the hospital’s financial needs, the sisters planted rubber trees on the hospital grounds. They also rely on their vegetable garden for many meals.)

Those too ill to make it to the hospital are able to receive checkups and treatment during the staff’s many field visits. “Between 250 and 500 people attend our medical camps,” said Sister Ann Maria. “The malaria detection and treatment camp is frequently held; malaria is a common disease in the area.”

“I’ve worked in many hospitals, all of which conduct free medical camps,” said Jyothi Hospital’s Dr. Santhraj Sequera. But, he continued, most hospitals conduct the camps to win new patients and withhold treatment until a patient pays a hospital visit. Jyothi Hospital is different. The hospital’s staff dispenses treatment and medicines whenever and wherever it is appropriate.

“They are really working for people who are in need,” Dr. Sequera said.

Today, Jyothi Hospital serves 60,000 people in the Belthangady area — irrespective of caste, creed, sex or age — working closely with local parish priests to assess the medical needs of different communities. The sisters, with Mar Lawrence’s support, are contemplating opening a nursing school.

“But if we start one, it will take a lot of time and may divert our attention from the hospital,” Sister Mercitta worried.

For now, it is their medical work at the hospital and in the field that commands the sisters’ attention. They recognize the value of this work every time they visit a patient.

It is more than the promise of medical relief that the sisters bring, said Sister Dr. Lissy George, a pediatrician.

“Our patients believe that God blesses them through us. Our presence makes them optimistic.”

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A photojournalist, Mercy Sister Christian Molidor is special assistant to CNEWA’s secretary general. Jomi Thomas is a staff writer for CNEWA’s Ernakulam office.

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