A 106-year-old hospital in Mahabaleshwar is reborn

Updated: Jul 13, 2020, 08:11 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

Defunct heritage medical facility - Morarji Gokaldas Rural Hospital - up and running again in Mahabaleshwar

Jaysinh Mariwala at the entrance of Morarji Gokaldas Rural Hospital
Jaysinh Mariwala at the entrance of Morarji Gokaldas Rural Hospital

The Morarji Gokaldas Rural Hospital (MGRH) Mahabaleshwar, the foundation stone of which was laid by Lord Willingdon, the then Governor of Bombay in 1914, has got a lease of life.

The decrepit structure next to Mahabaleshwar market, named after its donor Seth Morarji Gokaldas, a leading Bhatia community industrialist is back on shiny, new feet. The hospital was originally built for use by both locals and British tourists, situated on 11 acres of forest land adjacent to the Mahabaleshwar bazaar.

The restored OPD section
The restored OPD section

Sorry state
This facility, which has been under the purview of the Ministry of Health and Public Works Department, Maharashtra, had fallen into disrepair, for the past 25 years or so. For more than two decades, this hospital had been left unutilised and entirely unoccupied.

Mumbai's Jaysinh Mariwala, 87, who lives in Mahabaleshwar, "at least 25 days a month, and the rest in Mumbai," decided it was time for a revival. Mariwala said, "I first approached the Ministry of Health around 15 years ago with an offer to manage the hospital; at the time, there were no accessible medical facilities for Mahabaleshwar residents and its surrounding villages." Mariwala's offer to manage stemmed from his solid background. "I am the promoter of Global Hospital Parel, and have extensive experience as a trustee of the Bhatia Hospital in Tardeo," he said.

The 10-bed women's ward
The 10-bed women's ward

The challenge
In late 2018, the Ministry of Health decided to hand over the management of the hospital to the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), who also runs the Bel-Air Hospital nearby in Panchgani. Mariwala took up the narrative saying, "Father Tomy, the main administrator of Bel-Air, approached me to join hands with him to restore the MGRH, and I committed to the challenge." Fr. Tomy, director, Bel-Air Hospital, said, "This is a unique collaboration between the government and Red Cross and could be a role model for India to improve public health delivery, without privatisation or corporatisation, at the same time drawing on the goodwill of corporates and generous citizens."

Project begins
"Restoration started by first creating a functional OPD in the former main building of the compound. Most of the hospital was in disrepair given the severe weather conditions of Mahabaleshwar," explained Mariwala, who is managing chairman. Architects were roped in and the accent was on going vocal for local long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it into a catchphrase. Mariwala and team said, "It was decided to restore the hospital to its original, heritage state as far as possible and to use local materials and labour."

Money, money
The first phase of a 10-bed male ward, a 10-bed female ward, a six-bed pediatric ward and a six-bed maternity ward with an adjacent labour room; a four-bed ICU, two casualty beds, and three speciality rooms; a state-of-the-art operation theatre and an expanded OPD; a dentistry room, a radiography department (x-ray and sonography) and a pathology lab; and finally, an immunisation centre for children alongside the hospital pharmacy, needed funds. "This is where the management committee approached bungalow, hotel and shop owners of the community, as well as other friends and well-wishers of Mahabaleshwar. The response was heartening and overwhelming, and our budget was fulfilled almost immediately," said a jubilant Mariwala.

Before time
With funds lubricating the wheels, things moved fast. Said Mariwala, "Construction began on October 20 last year and was completed within six months by April 2020, six months before schedule!" There was a soft launch on May 8, necessitated by the lockdown. Said Mariwala, whose energy belies his 87 years, "Phase 2 and 3 are in the planning stage." Homi Khusrokhan, vice-president, IRCS (Indian Red Cross Society), Maharashtra, said, "The hospital is an excellent example of how public-private partnership can improve access to healthcare. This state-of-the-art facility was so badly required here."

Dr Amrish Vaidya of Mumbai, whose family has a 100-year-old association with Mahabaleshwar, said, "From a very basic rural hospital, it has transformed into a well-equipped facility. It is now ready for the next level of care for the local population." The team finished with zest, "Post-pandemic, we will host a formal opening for the Morarji Gokaldas Rural Hospital, Mahabaleshwar." That will be the icing on the (if it is Mahabaleshwar, it must be) strawberry cake.

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