Maronite Sisters: Offering Health Care Guided by the Gospel

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 Geitaoui Hospital in the heart of Beirut; the nearby Rosary Sisters Hospital; St. 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 today on Geitaoui is part of a five-part series profiling each of these facilities.

In the center of Beirut stands the Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui-University Medical Center, one of the oldest hospitals in Lebanon. It was founded in 1927 by the Rev. Joseph Selwan Geitaoui, a Maronite Catholic priest, to serve the impoverished and destitute in the city. 

In the late 1920s, the Lebanese were still recovering from the scars of the First World War (1914-1918) and the Great Famine of Mount Lebanon (1915-1918).

The Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family, established in 1895, was entrusted with the hospital’s administration, and the sisters continue to administer and serve the hospital guided by Gospel values to this day. 

This multidisciplinary care hospital, which remains a religious, nonprofit facility, is one of the five largest in Beirut, with a capacity of 260 beds. It treats 20,000 inpatients and 50,000 outpatients each year. Its doors are open to all, regardless of race, class or religion.

Water fountain at the main entrance of Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui in Beirut
Water fountain at the main entrance of Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui in Beirut. The hospital was forced to shut down after the Beirut Port explosion on 4 August 2020. (photo: Courtesy of Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui-UMC)

The Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui was forced to close its doors once during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), when it was damaged by intense shelling. The second time the hospital was forced to shut down was after the Beirut Port explosion on 4 August 2020, devastated the Lebanese capital. Geitaoui was one of the most affected neighborhoods. After providing emergency care immediately after the blast, the hospital had to halt its extensive care services for two months. The cost of reconstruction and repairs to the hospital was $7 million.

Throughout its history, the hospital has been a leader in health care at the national and regional levels, housing the country’s first and only burn center as of 1992. It remains one of only a few burn centers in the Middle East. It was also the first in the country to install hemodialysis equipment in 1969, a CT scan imaging center in 1981, and a pediatric and neonatal cardiac catheterization unit in 1996.

The hospital is noted for its excellence in the fields of neurophysiology, neurosurgery, thoracic and cardiac surgery and gastroenterology. It also excels at minimal invasive surgery and orthopedic surgery; its dialysis center and urology department are top-notch. The hospital also operates a Center for Hypertension, inaugurated in 2015, and the Center for Obesity Treatment, founded in 2016.

Lebanese Geitaoui Hospital became a university hospital in 2013, through its partnership agreement with the faculty of medicine of Lebanese University, the only public university with a medical faculty in the country. Currently, 120 students and residents are interning at the hospital. The dean of the faculty also heads the hospital board with the superior general of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family. 

The economic crisis that has devastated Lebanon since 2019 has been identified by the World Bank as among the 10 most severe crises worldwide since 1850, and the health care sector has taken a huge toll.

The exorbitant cost of electricity is a major challenge for health care in Lebanon. Since the state-run energy company is unable to provide more than two hours of electricity per day to customers, hospitals must run costly generators powered by fuel for the remaining 22 hours.

The Geitaoui hospital operates a station of 10 power generators to ensure an uninterrupted supply of electricity, which is crucial to maintain dialysis or respiratory equipment. The generators cost about $7,000 per day, representing more than 30 percent of the hospital’s budget.

In addition to the draining electricity bill, the devaluation of the Lebanese currency has deeply affected both patients and medical staff. The Lebanese pound (LBP) has plummeted — from its official exchange rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar to 34,000 pounds to the dollar — decimating the purchasing power of the Lebanese people. Today, many patients cannot afford their medical expenses.

The value of salaries has crumbled as well, leading to a dangerous wave of emigration. In the past two years, the Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui has lost 50 doctors and 150 nurses and health workers to emigration, resulting in an alarming lack of specialists in its reanimation, neurosurgery and pediatric surgery departments.

Currently, the hospital employs 100 doctors and 350 nurses and technicians. Management has tried to retain staff by paying 15 percent of their salaries in U.S. dollars, but the exodus of personnel remains one of the biggest challenges ahead. CNEWA’s grant, which will cover a portion of the medical professionals’ salaries in the next year, aims to stop this brain drain. 

Recent Posts

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español