Shot in the arm for Mater Dei Hospital


COLUMBUS — Both St Francis Hospital in Columbus, US, and Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo, were opened by Franciscan nuns in the 1950s. Both are now led by community trustees.

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The two have teams of dedicated medical personnel working to provide the best possible healthcare to their community. That is where the similarities end.

A shortage of equipment and well-trained doctors and nurses put Mater Dei in dire straits and St Francis is reaching out to help improve healthcare at its sister institution, more than 13 357km away from Columbus.

Last year St Francis announced that, as part of its 2012-2015 strategic plan, it would form a sister hospital relationship with Mater Dei, a 186-bed, private, non-profit, faith-based hospital.

The goal was to develop a cultural, relational and world-view exchange between the two hospitals. Recently, medical personnel representing St Francis travelled to Bulawayo to start building that relationship.

It was eye surgeon Steve Beaty idea that St Francis get involved. Beaty is the son of missionaries who spent part of his childhood in Zimbabwe.

He later practiced medicine in the country for a time and still goes back to conduct clinics.

“I know the great need there,” . “The St Francis board gave unanimous support.” Beaty said.

Beaty and his wife, Jane, a physical therapist, were among a team from St Francis that travelled to Mater Dei, leaving Columbus on May 24 and returning June 9.

Zimbabwe used to boast one of Africa’s better health services before the sector was adversely affected by the economic problems of the last few years.

“Much of the best medical personnel left because they could not make a living,” Beaty explained.

The brain drain has led to a lack of medical expertise at Mater Dei and other hospitals in the area that serve about four million people.

There is a great need for medical supplies such as blood pressure cuffs, digital blood pressure machines, stethoscopes and surgery instruments. St Francis will help provide those. Beaty however, said the partnership was also about physician education, helping physicians and nurses to develop a certain skill set.

“It is no use sending a pediatric incubator if medical personnel does not know how to use it,” Beaty said.

He said the training that St Francis personnel can provide will have a “trickle-down effect” as doctors and nurses there share what they have been taught.

On their May trip to Zimbabwe, Beaty and others conducted an eye camp giving exams and providing reading glasses.

Classes were conducted with physicians and nurses. A city-wide trauma course was held.

The surgeons all used the word “unique” to describe the partnership with Mater Dei.
“We hope other American hospitals will form a similar partnership with hospitals in other countries,” McCluskey said.

“We have a real chance to change the health care system there,” Beaty said. Though Mater Dei has been struggling to the keep its doors open since 2008, it provides medical care to an orphanage, the Sandra Jones Centre, free of charge. Part of the mission Wolff, Beaty and McCluskey went on was to prioritise what is by the orphanage most.

McCluskey said the goal was not to do surgeries but to teach, which would reap greater benefits than just helping a few patients over the course of a week. The goal is to make Mater Dei a centre of excellence, he added.