Lebanon’s multiple crises shake the stability of Saint Joseph Hospital

Editor’s Note: Earlier this summer, CNEWA received two grants, including one for $925,000 from a member of the Holy Land Christians Society, to support five Catholic hospitals in Lebanon. Combined with a grant of $300,000 from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the grants cover salaries for 1,093 doctors and nurses over a 12-month period at Lebanese Geitaoui Hospital in the heart of Beirut; the nearby Rosary Sisters Hospital; Saint Joseph Hospital in Dora; Tel Chiha Hospital in Zahleh; and Bhannes Medical Center in Dahr el Sawan, near Beirut. The grants stabilize for now the institutions whose financial resources have run dangerously low since the collapse of Lebanon’s economy. Our feature on Saint Joseph Hospital is part of a five-part series profiling each of these facilities.

Saint Joseph Hospital opened its doors in 1952, thanks to the efforts of Father Yacoub al Haddad (1875-1954), a Franciscan Capuchin priest whose work focused on helping the disenfranchised.

Father al Haddad founded the Franciscan Congregation of the Sisters of the Cross of Lebanon in 1930 and guided his work under the premise: “Give your preferences to the most abandoned.” 

This Roman Catholic congregation quickly expanded from Lebanon to Egypt, Jordan and Syria, establishing several medical and educational centers. Today, the congregation has 242 sisters.

The origins of Saint Joseph Hospital, originally named Hospital of the Cross, can be traced to a center for homeless people, abandoned children, and people with intellectual and physical needs, founded by Father al Haddad after the First World War, at a time when Mount Lebanon was ravaged by the Great Famine that wiped out a third of the population.

A nurse feeding a new born at Saint Joseph Hospital in Beirut.
A nurse feeds a newborn at Saint Joseph Hospital in Beirut. (photo: CNEWA/Beirut)

Saint Joseph Hospital would follow suit and also become a place to welcome those on the margins of society. The hospital is located in Bauchrieh, a northern suburb of Beirut, a historically low-income industrial area that is home to different migrant communities.

At its origin, the hospital functioned mainly as an institution for people suffering with mental illness, as they tended to be ostracized and rejected by other medical centers. The hard work and diligence of the Sisters of the Cross pushed the hospital to expand its services and become the general hospital that it is today.

Throughout its history, the hospital never closed its doors, not even when it was heavily bombed in 1982 during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).

In 2002, a new chapter of the hospital was written thanks to a donation by engineer Raymond Najjar and his wife, Aida Naffah Najjar. The hospital was renovated and a new building was constructed. The center, renamed Saint Joseph Hospital of the Sisters of the Cross – Raymond and Aida Najjar Medical Center, has become one of the few accredited “class A” hospitals in Lebanon.

Staff on duty at Saint Joseph Hospital
Staff at Saint Joseph Hospital compile medical forms. The hospital has lost 24 doctors and, in the first half of 2022 alone, 44 nurses, part of a mass exodus of professionals from Lebanon in recent years due to the country’s ongoing economic crisis. (photo: CNEWA/Beirut)

Today, this private nonprofit hospital has a capacity of 225 beds. Twenty sisters manage the center, which received more than 14,000 patients in 2021.

The renal dialysis center, the speech therapy center and the maternity room are among the highlights of this hospital. The center also has a high-end emergency room, seven operating rooms and doctors specialized in the fields of neurology, pediatrics, intensive care, urology, cardiology, gastroenterology, pulmonology, dentistry and radiology.

Saint Joseph Hospital is a university hospital affiliated with the faculty of medicine of Saint Joseph University, a private Catholic research university, founded in 1875 by the Society of Jesus. Currently 22 residents and 12 interns are at Saint Joseph Hospital in general medicine, pharmacy, imaging, nursing and dietetics.

The multiple crises that have hit Lebanon in the past few years — from the economic debacle and the plummeting currency to the aftermath of the explosion at the Beirut port in August 2020 — have shaken the stability of this hospital.

St. Joseph Hospital building, Beirut, Lebanon
Saint Joseph Hospital in Beirut. (photo: CNEWA/Beirut)

The Beirut port explosion that shattered the Lebanese capital severely damaged Saint Joseph Hospital, located about 1.2 miles from the epicenter of the blast. In the first hour after the explosion, the hospital received and treated more than 400 injured. The cost of repairing the damages to the hospital cost $500,000.

The cost of fuel to run the power generators is depleting the hospital’s economic reserves.

The devastating economic crisis has led to the third mass exodus from Lebanon, with the rate of emigration increasing 346 percent from 2020 to 2021. This phenomenon directly affects the hospital given the brain drain among medical staff. So far, 24 doctors left since the crisis hit and, in the spring of 2022 alone, 44 nurses also left.

Currently, 156 doctors and 480 employees work at the hospital. The CNEWA grant covering a portion of the doctors and nurses’ salaries is contributing to staff retention.

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