Masina Sends Donors An SOS

Mumbai’s oldest charitable hospital falls on hard times

One entire wing shut, only 35 per cent beds occupied, doctors leaving in droves, not enough money to pay staff
Hospital uses Diwali to seek help from its patrons; come see the hospital first, it says.

It boasts of an illustrious past and is trying not to become history. Mumbai’s first private and charitable hospital, Bai Jerbai Masina Hospital, is struggling to keep up with the times. The hospital, that started in 1902 in the erstwhile palace of the wealthy Jewish businessman from Baghdad, David Sassoon, does not have enough money for its upkeep and repairs today

For now, the hospital seems to be in the sick bay. Of the 270 beds, patients occupy only 100; although the hospital maintains the sanctioned staff strength of 400 Class IV employees, 150 nurses and 100 resident medical officers, it barely has enough money to pay salaries; doctors are leaving at a fast clip and replacements are hard to come by; most of the medical equipment is obsolete and needs to be replaced; the building is dilapidated and at least one wing is on the verge of collapse. But the money required to get all this fixed is hard to come by.

Using Diwali as an opportunity, the hospital has started sending out courteous letters to its patrons past and present, requesting them to open up their hearts and purse strings, and reminding them of all the good work the hospital has done. So far, they have contacted at least 1,000 patrons who have contributed to the hospital’s well-being over the past 25 years.

The hospital, and the building that houses it, have a significant and interesting history. David Sassoon, who stayed in the grand mansion called ‘Sans Souci’ (no worries) suffered an acute hernia attack. Dr Homasji Manekji Masina, who always dreamt of setting up a hospital to treat the underprivileged, cured Sassoon upon which the latter gifted the mansion to the good doctor for a sum of Rs 25,000. In recognition of his work and that of his devoted wife Jerbai, funds from charities soon poured in and Bai Jerbai Masina became Bombay’s first private hospital in 1902.

It started off with five beds and the facility was expanded to become a multi-specialty department with 270 beds.

But that was all in the past.

It’s been a year now that one wing of the Bai Jerbai Hospital, the Serene Bai Memorial Wing, has been shut. Cracked ceilings, moulding walls and broken, fungus-infested floors are all that is left of the once ornate structure.

The medical director of the hospital, Dr Premraj Battalwar, told Mirror: “We were forced to shut this wing as we cannot put patients’ life at risk. The building is crumbling and we started getting complaints from patients. For so many years we operated this wing but today even the operation theatre has had to be shifted to another wing. The Serene Bai Memorial Wing was a 50-bed hospital.”

“Forget this wing, we need new equipment urgently. We are still using old, out-dated equipment. Doctors won’t come unless we upgrade the hospital. The hospital is running in losses. We are somehow managing to pay the salaries of all our staff. We are facing a shortage of specialist doctors. The hospital needs to be revamped; it needs a modular operation theatre, MRI, CT scan, ultrasound machines,” he added.

When asked why the hospital was so deeply in the red, Dr Battalwar said: “Earlier, there were very few hospitals in this area. We were very slow to react when luxurious private hospitals with modern facilities started springing up. But we still charge Rs 300 for OPD facilities while other private hospitals charge four times that amount.

Masina Hospital has many firsts to its name. It is well-known for running a burns centre. It is also remembered as the first hospital to start a “premature baby unit”, and the psychiatric ward and the drug rehabilitation centre. In fact, the burns and the psychiatric ward are the two departments that make the maximum money for the hospital.

The hospital is run by a Parsi trust. Dr Battalwar said that the hospital has taken a loan of Rs 2 crore from the trust for minor repair work. “We have requested ONGC, chief minister and the BMC to loan us some amount so that this old hospital survives and continues treating needy patients, but so far there has been no response.”

“We need Rs 1 crore urgently for the repair of the Serene Bai Memorial Wing and that is why we have written to our donors. We want them to come see our hospital’s condition before making the donation.”