Archbishop Zeigler, who led a high level CAM delegation on Tuesday, met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at her Foreign Ministry office, and informed her that the reopening is in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an Executive Mansion statement said.
Other members of the delegation were the Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Rev. Fr. Patrick Kabba; CAM’s Vicar General, Rev. Fr. Charles Boyce; Dean of the Mother Pattern College of Health Science, Stella Maris Polytechnic, Rev. Sister Barbara Brillant; member of the Catholic Church Ebola Taskforce, Mr. Samuel Kofi Woods.
Others were Acting Administrator of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital, Rev. Brother Bernard Isah Benda; and member of the Coordinating Taskforce for the Re-opening of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital, Rev. Brother Jose Maria Viadero.
As a result of the severity of the Ebola outbreak and its severe toll on the facility, St. Joseph’s shut its gates in late July. This was right after the controversial case of Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American businessman who became globally known when he took the virus to Nigeria after being infected when he took his infected sister to St. Joseph’s for treatment. After she died of Ebola, he flew to Nigeria, sparking the outbreak there. He also died of the virus in Nigeria.
The original closure of St. Joseph’s was supposed to last a month. The Medical Director of the hospital, Samuel Bowman, 72, said the idea was for the facility to regroup and the wards disinfected. This was supposed to have been done by the Health Ministry, but to no avail. So the hospital had to turn away pregnant women, children with broken arms, and patients with diarrhea and malaria whom the hospital had routinely treated over the years.
Speaking with President Sirleaf about the planned reopening, Archbishop Zeigler indicated that activities at the hospital will initially focus on the Maternal Ward, to be followed by the Pediatric Ward and subsequently the General Ward. He said 14 of the 18 Catholic-run health institutions across the country had been open throughout the crisis.
Archbishop Zeigler reflected on the tragedy in August and September that led to the loss of nine members of the hospital’s staff, including four missionaries, among them a Spanish priest, Father Miguel Pajares, who contracted the virus and later died in a Madrid hospital, where he and five other staff had been evacuated,
“The church was completely devastated and indeed felt the weight of the death toll inflicted on it by the Ebola virus in August and September,” he said, adding, “It certainly was not easy and we will always remember our dedicated healthcare workers and missionaries who died serving humanity.
We thank God for the strength to have endured and overcome.”
He informed President Sirleaf that the church looks forward to assistance from the Government of Liberia, especially for the healthcare workers who will provide services at the hospital.”
The Catholic prelate thanked President Sirleaf and her Government for finally taking control of the further spread of the disease with the support of the Liberian people and international partners. He also warned against blowing-up the success in the Ebola fight thus far with complacency, as such attitude could reverse the gains and lead the country back to the terrible experience of the last few months.
Rev. Brillant, who is also head of the Catholic Church Taskforce on Ebola, briefed President Sirleaf about the Church’s Ebola campaign and the steps taken thus far towards the resumption of operations at the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital. “Operations at the hospital will include care centers, triaging facilities and the regular hospital activities to ensure the safety of workers and patients as we commence operations later this month,”
President Sirleaf described the decision of the Catholic Church to re-open St. Joseph as the happiest news of the week for the Church, government and the country as a whole, while at the same time commending the Church for its commitment to Liberians.
She expressed sympathy and sorrow for the losses sustained by the hospital and promised to work with the government’s health team and partners to look into what can be done for healthcare workers who will be assigned at the hospital as it reopens.
“The hazard pay introduced during the fight against Ebola was time bound for six months initially, but we can look into what can be done with Ebola still around. We must find a way to meet the needs of those who take the risk to provide healthcare services during this Ebola crisis,” President Sirleaf said. She promised to raise the matter at the next meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on Ebola where the matter will be fully discussed.
She said government is pleased with the progress in the fight so far due to the efforts of all. She noted that government was trying now to shift attention to upgrading the regular healthcare facilities and provide adequate training for healthcare workers across the country.
President Sirleaf also informed Archbishop Zeigler and his delegation that in partnership with the Clinton Health Initiative, Government is developing a 10-year plan to upgrade the health system with strong infection control mechanisms for future disease outbreaks and health crises.
Founded in the 1960s, St. Joseph’s touts itself as the oldest continuously operating hospital in the country. It stayed open throughout the brutal regimes and rebel wars of the 1990s.
The hospital over the years has been run by the Brothers of St. John of God, who have since returned to Liberia and will continue to run the hospital.
The 140-bed facility, during the heat of the Ebola crisis, had only a handful of the full-body protective suits which have become the standard for treating Ebola patients. As a result of the limited number of PPEs the hospital staff had to use them “sparingly.”
The medical director of the facility, Samuel Bowman, 72, upon the closure of the facility, said that St. Joseph’s wasn’t even supposed to treat Ebola patients, but some ended up on its wards. “In the process, our hospital director became infected by one of the patients, and he subsequently died. And those who had direct contact with him got infected.”
Some of the medical practitioners inffected at the time were, a brother, two sisters, two staff nurses, the social worker and a laboratory technician.