BENGALURU: St Martha’s is an island of greenery in a concrete jungle,” says Dr Om Prakash, an emeritus consultant at St Martha’s Hospital on Nruputunga Road, and rightly so. Earlier located on what was known as Cenotaph Road, St Martha’s has been around for over 130 years, making it among the first hospitals in Bengaluru. Trees, old architecture and a quiet atmosphere give this hospital, which is spread over 20 acres, a serene feel, unlike the corporate, chain hospitals we are accustomed to today.
In fact, as Arun Prasad, a city-based historian, points out, this is the only hospital from the olden times that has retained its greenery, and that it’s very important for the recovery of patients to be in this kind of environment. In fact, from its inception, this hospital has been dedicated to the holistic recovery of its patients, he says.
From women’s empowerment to haven for poor
The hospital was founded on 28 July, 1886, by the Good Shepherd Sisters, also known as the Ladies of Charity. This international congregation of religious women, part of the Roman Catholic Church, was founded by St Mary Euphrasia (1796-1868) and St Jude Eudes after the French Revolution, and is present in 72 countries. These women work primarily with downtrodden women and children, and despite their
worldwide presence, St Martha’s is the only hospital they ever established. Even now, the maternity and paediatric care provided at St Martha’s is what sets them apart, says Sr Teresa
Mandakath Sister Superior, adding that the hospital has retained its ‘people’s hospital’ tag through the years.
In 1854, Sister Mary Euphrasia sent five Sisters from the congregation to Bengaluru, then under the Mysore Kingdom, whose main purpose was to empower women through education and skill training. They converted an old prison on Museum Road into a safe haven for women and children, and opened up a convent for girls. In 1882, in the wake of a great drought that hit the Kingdom, famine and a deadly plague spread, taking the lives of millions.
The only other hospital, Bowring Hospital, was meant primarily for army personnel, and a city dispensary near the Cantonment area, was overcrowded, says Prasad, adding that this inspired the Sisters to open up a hospital for the poor. Impressed with their services, the then Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar X, donated 20 acres of land to the Sisters, with then Dewan of Mysore, K Seshadri Iyer, playing an important role in the allocation of this land. Thus, on the eve of the feast of St Martha, the hospital was established. Since then, the hospital has grown from a 50 bed hospital, to a 500+ bed multi-speciality hospital, that still provides affordable healthcare. In 1993 and 1998, the hospital started a School of Nursing and a College of nursing, respectively.
Personal contact, bonding and spirituality
Sister Teresa makes sure she goes on rounds herself twice every day, talking to patients. In fact, patients, regardless of stature, caste or class, are treated equally, says Dr Davy, adding that it is partly due the generous donations from the city’s wealthy, that this hospital has been able to sustain itself.
Sister Lorraine, ward in-charge of Nirmala Ward (maternity care), grew up on the premises, as her father was a doctor here, after which she pursued nursing at the same hospital. She says, “I grew up surrounded by compassion, and I’ve been able to apply that same compassion in other areas of life as well. However, I have felt a slight shift in atmosphere here through the years. Earlier, since we stayed here, I noticed how close-knit the Martha’s community was — the doctors, nurses and the Sisters were united.
Times have changed now, people are involved in their own lives and have become aloof. Though I’m unsure how we’ll sustain ourselves, unless we meet the technology needs to keep up with the times, the one thing that’ll never die here is compassion,” says Sister Lorraine, who has been associated with St Martha’s since 1965.