Increasing numbers, needs: Italian Hospital in Jordan faces challenges

Two nurses from the neonatal intensive care unit of the Italian Hospital pose for a photo in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

Two nurses from the neonatal intensive care unit of the Italian Hospital pose for a photo in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — About the only things Italian about the Italian Hospital in Jordan’s capital are the name and a few of the signs.

Indian sisters from a French-based order, the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Mother, have been running the hospital for nearly a decade. Their numbers are declining, but not as steeply as those of the Italian-based Comboni Sisters, who transferred stewardship of the hospital they had been operating since its opening in 1926.

Even as vocations to religious life have been dwindling, the needs of the Italian Hospital have been increasing. More of its patients are refugees from Iraq and Syria than are “private” patients who live in the area, a poor section of the city a few minutes’ drive from the Greater Amman Municipality headquarters.

“The refugees, their story, it’s heartbreaking,” said Sister Elizabeth, the hospital’s director. “It’s difficult to listen to them every day.”

Sister Vinitha, who also works at the 100-bed hospital, said that her native India has a reputation for gripping poverty, but even there “I didn’t feel this type of desolation.”

“There is a lot of sacrifice and challenges to do the mission,” she said. “And that brings us back to the Lord.”

Dr. Khalid Shammas, medical director, said the refugees “come with different diseases. Some of them we are not familiar with.”

They also arrive with physical wounds or with psychological scars that come with being torn from their homeland.

“Most of the refugees are coming from the north of Iraq, from Mosul,” Shammas said. “They were in the middle, upper class. … It is a big psychological trauma to them. They need psychological treatment. In Jordan, we don’t have many (who can provide it.)”

Sister Elizabeth said that at Christmas, the hospital took up a collection to give their patients a little bit of money.

“You know what they said? ‘We don’t need your money. Give us a future,'” she recalled.

Money is hard to come by, the hospital staff acknowledged. The charges to the private patients help pay for some of the charity care the Italian Hospital provides. But “we have to squeeze,” Sister Elizabeth said. “Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to pay the staff,” which numbers 130.

Complicating matters was a recent U.N. decision to stop providing aid to the Italian Hospital network throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“Though they liked working with us, they can’t work with us anymore,” Sister Elizabeth said, adding that the reason for the U.N. suspending its relationship was not made clear.

If the Italian Hospital had the funds, it would buy more kidney dialysis machines. On a recent Saturday morning, all eight machines were being used by patients; another four patients were waiting.

“This is an expensive treatment,” Sister Elizabeth said. “Sometimes they need dialysis three times a week, but they can only afford to come once or twice a week.” Under such constant use, the machines can be expected to last 10 years.

Other medical devices and laboratory equipment are on the hospital’s wish list. Shammas said they had discussed their needs people from funding agencies such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which has supported the hospital system for decades.

The Italian Hospital also has a thriving infant ward, with room for 10 newborns. Babies tend to stay 24 hours after birth, but babies born through Cesarean section will stay two or three days, Shammas said. There were three babies in a neonatal intensive care unit, slated to nearly double in size provided enough equipment can be acquired. The dialysis unit likewise has a newly renovated room waiting for new machines to fill it.

Nassim Sumawi, the hospital’s finance manager, said it did not matter whether people donated money, supplies or equipment directly to the hospital or through CNEWA.

“Any way,” he said, “the help will reach us.”

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