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But it is the nearby Infopark Smart Space Kochi that captures best Kerala’s fast–changing economy and way of life. Established in 2004, the gated, campuslike property consists of sleek high–rise office buildings, whose tenants include some of the state’s most successful information technology companies. At any given time in the workweek, scores of sharply dressed young professionals can be seen hurrying about their business among the buildings.

Both office parks blend in seamlessly with Kakkanad’s new residential neighborhoods, condominiums and shopping centers. Area residents might easily forget that 40 years ago this was a remote village — and the perfect setting to establish a psychiatric hospital, Kusumagiri Mental Health Center.

It bears the distinction of being the oldest private psychiatric hospital in Kerala. These days, with more people settling in Kakkanad, the center makes a special effort to protect the privacy of its patients and their families.

“Our secrecy has to be maintained,” says Sister Joyce Mathew, who has directed the center since 1972.

“Stigma is a big concern. It is the same all over, in the U.S., too. But in the West, even if you have an illness or problem, the family will live peacefully. Here in Kerala and across India, we have a very strong family–centered culture. Family requires total commitment. Before marriage, a family thinks seriously whether it should make an alliance with another family with a history of mental illness.”

The Kusumagiri Mental Health Center has earned a reputation as a leader in the field. Founded and operated by the Syro–Malabar Catholic Medical Sisters of St. Joseph, the center treats 100 residents and also runs a school for autistic children. With four psychiatrists and some 100 staff, including 25 sisters, the center boasts one of the best patient–staff ratios.

However, no statistic can accurately measure the staff’s tireless commitment.

“We work 24 hours a day. We don’t look at the time,” says Sister Joyce. “Whenever there’s a need, we’re there to provide care. Even when residents become abusive toward us, with love and confidence, we serve them. We’re trained in every aspect — nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, autism specialists, clinical psychologists, speech therapists, lab technicians, occupational therapists, pharmacists, accountants, special educators and physical therapists. We have confidence in the quality of our care.

“Our sisters joined the congregation before we joined the medical field,” she continues. “We follow the vision of our founder: to give to humanity with a compassionate heart and bring about wholeness. We’re trying to impart this compassion to the patient in our service — but not only the patient. The wholeness comes from the patient, the family and all of society.”

This emphasis on family points to the center’s most striking feature — its family–centered approach to rehabilitation. Unlike most other institutions of its kind, Kusumagiri admits a patient on the condition that a family member stays with him or her at the center.

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Tags: Kerala Health Care Socioreligious programs Alcoholism Mental health/ mental illness