In late 1999, I asked Bruce Antonello, the former chief executive officer of St. Mary Hospital, about a nun who had attended Waterloo Lutheran University and taken Near Eastern Studies courses at the same time I was taking the same courses at the university.
Antonello told me her name was Sister Anderson and she was president and chief administrative of the St. Joseph's Health System with headquarters in Hamilton.
This started our voyage and on Jan. 2, 2000, a trip was arranged for Sister Anderson (who identified the needs of St. Joseph's Hospital in Jerusalem), and Antonello, Brian Guest (executive director of St. Joseph) and Dr. Brian Kelly (St. Mary's chief of staff at the time, and currently vice president of medical affairs) to meet with St. Joseph's Hospital board of directors and the hospital staff in East Jerusalem.
Both St. Mary's and St. Joseph's hospitals are affiliated with St. Joseph Health System.
St. Joseph Hospital was founded in 1954 by a French religious order, The Sisters of Saint Joseph's of the Apparition. It is the only Catholic hospital in East Jerusalem. Its mission is to serve the Palestinian community in Jerusalem and the West Bank, regardless of religion, sex, race, culture or economic status.
His Beatitude Mgsr. Michael Sabbah, who attended a dinner held to honour our delegation at Notre Dame in East Jerusalem, blessed our trip in 2000. We toured the hospital and all its facilities and met with members of the board and senior staff. We identified areas that needed assistance and mapped out programs for participation and education.
"It was an eye-opening experience to see how well they were doing for such a small hospital," said Antonello. "It also made me appreciate what we have here in Canada."
In early May of this year, members of St. Joseph's Hospital met with senior staff at St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener to exchange information and continue to build our partnership.
Sister Gilberte Saliba, the president, Jamil Koussa, the general director, Dr. Aziz Shoufani, the medical director and Rima Awad, the nursing director, visited St. Mary's for two days. Due to political unrest, it is only now that the team from Jerusalem was able to repay the visit.
"This visit gave St. Mary's the opportunity to provide guidance and answer questions for our counterparts from halfway around the world," said Guest.
On Aug. 2, I was honoured to have been asked by Mgsr. Sabbah to join a newly formed international board of trustees, which will spearhead an international fundraising campaign for St. Joseph's 50 year celebration in 2005. The first meeting of the board will be held at the Vatican later this year.
St. Mary's and St. Joseph's are working on a defined strategic plan with specific goals and objectives. The planning document will include information regarding the funding implications with details such as where the funds will be coming from.
The hospital hopes to expand its capacity from the current 73 beds to 150 beds. I was very impressed with the plans. A building permit is in place and the hospital hopes to start an emergency department with its own ambulance service because the licensed ambulances cannot go into the Arab areas of Jerusalem, thus leaving some patients without access.
One of the major initiatives planned by St. Joseph's is to renovate the operating room and sterilization rooms, as well as respiratory and ambulatory units, open a lab and establish a mother/child unit. It's a very ambitious program, but one that is direly needed and must be completed.
I shared all of our efforts and St. Joseph's plans with our government's representative, Steve Hibbord, in Ramallah. He was very supportive and enthusiastic, especially because this is a small group that is trying to help the Palestinian people. We, in this country, are great at helping to build civil society and we are masters at building infrastructure.
I appreciate the continued support of the board of directors of St. Joseph Health System and St. Mary's Hospital for such a wonderful partnership. It has made a huge difference to many lives in East Jerusalem.
I am delighted to be a part of this journey.
Finally, I urge our government to give support in helping further such grand partnerships and making a unique dream become a reality.
By Shawky Fahel
August 20, 2004