In Lebanon, Economic Crisis Threatens Closure of Catholic Hospital

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED – THE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL OF THE CROSS is a Catholic non-profit facility in Beirut brought to the verge of collapse by Lebanon’s economic crisis. Since its establishment more than 60 years ago, it has been taking care of the most vulnerable and abandoned people. Today it is at risk of closure for lack of funding.

Situated in the heights of Beirut, from where the port wreckage can be seen, the hospital can accommodate 800 patients suffering from various mental illnesses. All of them need specific and permanent assistance. The hospital is situated in a large compound with several buildings and employs more than 300 people, doctors, nurses, and administrative staff.

The facility was founded in 1952 by Blessed Father Jacques Haddad, a Lebanese Capuchin priest who died in 1954 and was beatified in Beirut in June 2008. Its establishment was linked to a project Father Haddad had launched in the aftermath of World War I to care for the many disabled and mentally ill people, often children, abandoned by their families. The Lebanese Capuchin founded the Hospital of the Cross and, in 1930, the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross of Lebanon.

Following in the footsteps of their founder, the Franciscan nuns now manage 25 medical, social, and educational centers throughout Lebanon. The Psychiatric Hospital of the Cross is one of them. From its outset, the institution has dedicated itself to supporting the most disadvantaged.

Recently, the 65 nuns, including the hospital’s director, Sister Jeanette, received a visit from a delegation of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Along with other organizations, ACN supports and funds projects that allow the facility to continue caring for its patients. The economic crisis has put a strain on the establishment, which currently lives on its reserves and, without international support, would only survive a few months.

The hospital is in desperate need of money to pay its staff, feed its patients, buy expensive drugs, the prices of which have more than tripled due to the devaluation of the Lebanese Pound. In addition, with electricity available only one hour a day, the hospital runs generators at full speed which require 15 tons of fuel each week, with one ton costing more than $700.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, the hospital has been forced to reduce its capacity from 1,000 to 800 beds. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the state contributed subsidies amounting to $2 per patient, which is a total of $ 2,000 per month. Although the sum was minimal and insufficient, it represented a regular income. However, since summer 2020 the hospital has not received any public funds at all. In this context, the only solution for the congregation is to appeal for international funding without which the Psychiatric Hospital of the Cross would be forced to close. This would be catastrophic for its patients.

When ACN met her in Beirut, Sister Jeanette explained that if the hospital were to close, most of the patients would end up in the streets. “Many no longer have families,” she said. Even worse, many families abandon their children in the hospital leaving false names, addresses, and phone numbers. Unfortunately, the nun said, this often happens in the most serious cases. However, she assured that should funding not arrive and the establishment is forced to close, she would do her best to make sure patients will not be abandoned.

The nursing staff, who, like most Lebanese, have not been spared by the crisis, obviously want to continue their work. Nurses are often the patients’ only contact with the outside world. Foutine, a young woman nurse, highlights the suffering of many patients in the hospital. She said she considers her job a “calling,” and she rejects the notion that the facility might close for lack of funds. Neither Foutine, nor her colleagues, many of whom are “surrogate” families for these children, can imagine having to abandon them.

—Jean-Charles Potzolu, AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED. Published with permission.