Healing Kerala’s Health Care

The church fills gaps in India’s admired health care system

text and photographs by Peter Lemieux

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As the sun rises over the Amala Hospital and Research Center grounds in Trichur, Kerala, lay and religious doctors, nurses and other staff gather in the adjoining chapel for a brief liturgy before a hard day’s work. The institution’s former director and current head of its board of trustees, Father Paul Achandy, leads the prayers.

With a busy 1,000–bed hospital and medical institute to oversee, the Carmelite priest keeps a close eye on the clock. After the celebration, he promptly closes the liturgy with a few words of wisdom. He also requests prayers for this year’s crop of students in the hospital’s nursing program who will take their final exams that afternoon. He then reminds the group that the day is the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, to whom the Amala Hospital is dedicated.

To celebrate, Father Paul encourages them to join a rosary procession that evening, which will begin at the chapel, wind through the institution’s rolling campus and end at the grotto near its edge, where he will hold a candlelit vigil.

As the staff files out of the chapel, a recorded hymn sounds through the hospital speaker system. The music reminds staff and patients in the hospital the liturgy has ended and that Father Paul will begin offering the Eucharist to bedridden patients.

With an oil lamp in one hand and a list of the patients in the other, a sister accompanies the priest from the chapel and down a long hallway leading to the 210–bed intensive care unit. Awaiting their arrival, a nurse joins them and briskly guides the priest to the room of the first patient on the list. She opens the door and stands back. Without pause, Father Paul hurries into the room, warmly greets an elderly man lying in bed and quickly gives him Communion. The nurse then directs him to other patients on the list.

For the next 15 minutes, the priest rushes through the multistory facility, distributing Communion to more than 30 patients in various wards. “Here, prayer is so much a part of the culture,” explains Father Paul. “But in a hospital setting, it’s a very fast pace. If you don’t deliver things in time, it’s a problem. Time is critical. If we’re delayed for even a minute, lives are threatened.”

Established in 1978 by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate — the first and largest religious congregation for men in the Syro–Malabar Catholic Church — the institution consists of a full–service general hospital, a homeopathic hospital, a 100–bed ayurvedic (or traditional Indian medicine) hospital, a cancer research center, a cardiac center as well as a medical school and a nursing college.

The facility offers diagnostic treatment in almost every specialization and boasts the latest medical equipment and information technology, 25 surgical operating rooms and a state–of–the–art radiology department, which most recently acquired a new linear particle accelerator.

The medical school and nursing college together enroll 1,200 students from all over India. In total, more than 2,000 medical professionals and their families reside on the campus.

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Tags: Kerala Health Care Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Priests Socioreligious programs