Outreach at Health Sciences Campus
Amrita Kripa Hospitals
In addition to Amrita's flagship hospital, the 1450-bed, super-speciality hospital AIMS at Kochi, Amrita has also established several smaller satellite hospitals in semi-urban and rural areas to serve the local populace at those places. Students from the health sciences campus in Kochi are often posted to these hospitals, and doctors and other medical staff go to serve there as well.
The hospitals are linked to the 24/7 telemedicine service of AIMS Hospital. The technology allows transmission of patient's medical records including images, besides providing live two-way audio and video link, which in case of an emergency; enable a general practitioner at the health center to connect with a specialist from AIMS, who can give specific advice on the course of the treatment to follow.
Amrita Kripa Hospital, Amritapuri
The hospital provides free medical care to the residents of eight coastal villages, as well as to the Amritapuri ashram's residents and visitors. The hospital is also home to several elderly permanent patients. The hospital serves a total of 10,000 registered patients. Ashram doctors are assisted by visiting specialists and a telemedicine link with AIMS Hospital, where referrals are sent.
This hospital situated on the premises of Amma's main ashram provides free medical care to local residents from the eight neighboring coastal villages as well as Amritapuri ashram's residents and visitors. To date, this amounts to a total of 10,000 registered patients. On a normal, average day, around 150 out-patients require the health center's assistance.
Endocrinology, Dermatology, ENT (ear, nose, throat), Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Orthopedics, Gynecology, Cardiology, and Homeopathy visiting specialists offer their services on Wednesdays and weekends when an even larger crowd, often more than 200, populate the shady corridors surrounded by a lush garden, waiting their turn to receive needed professional help.
Chiropractic treatments are also provided by one of the ashram residents. Dental care, available two to three times a week, meets the great demand from both villagers as well as ashram residents.
The 50 bed health center has a two-bed intensive care unit at its disposal so that emergencies can be given attention. "We stabilize patients so that they can be sent to AIMS Hospital for further treatment or surgery, the most common emergency cases being appendix or bypass surgery" states Br. Dr. Chandrasekhar. "The hospital is a gift from Amma to the villagers," he adds. In addition to two permanent ashram medical doctors, three qualified nurses take care of patients' needs.
The health center is also "home" for several elderly permanent patients needing constant care. One of the residents, Janki Amma, a Malayali, came to the center six months ago. She enjoys conversing with other residents or reading spiritual literature sitting in the corner of the second floor corridor, in front of her simple, yet carefully decorated room.
Displaying the natural pride of a mother, she chatted in fluent English with the interviewer about her beloved son, Br. Amarnath, who serves in Amma's Trivandrum Ashram. Bri. Beena, in addition to her assignment at the pharmacy, takes care of Janaki Amma, by sleeping in Janaki Amma's room at night and by organizing her daytime care, which is carried out by ashram residents and long term visitors.
After obtaining the required medical prescriptions from their personal doctors, village residents then receive free medicine from the well-equipped pharmacy. "Since most of our patients have chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension which require long term treatment with particularly expensive medicines, this measure brings great relief to many local families," explains the pharmacist.
On Amma's advice, Bri. Beena studied pharmacy at AIMS and joined the ashram right after her graduation nearly a decade ago. She started serving at the hospital a few months after her arrival at Amritapuri.
The laboratory is yet another much needed facility at Amrita Kripa. "On an average day, approximately 20 tests including sugar, microscopic urine and stool, hemoglobin and lymphocyte, and Mantoux (a test to diagnose tuberculosis), are carried out," explains Pranada. She is an ashram resident from France and is one of the two qualified laboratory assistants who do selfless service at the center. "As a secondary preventive measure, vaccinations like rabbis or tetanus are also administered at the lab," she elaborates.
"Local housewives, in doing laundry by hand or lugging around heavy pots over the years, frequently develop neck, shoulder, lower back and arm pain. An unexpected positive side-effect from the physiotherapeutic treatment is that these hardworking women get some special attention, which for many, represents a completely new life experience."
In performing their daily work, local fishermen repeatedly experience accidents resulting in fractures or ligament injuries. In order to fully recover and return to work, these patients often require rehabilitative therapy sessions for several weeks which are provided by Nila or Ferdinand, the two physiotherapists who do seva at the center.
"Local housewives, in doing laundry by hand or lugging around heavy pots over the years, frequently develop neck, shoulder, lower back and arm pain," Nila explains. "An unexpected positive side-effect from the physiotherapeutic treatment is that these hardworking women get some special attention, which for many, represents a completely new life experience."
After working at Amrita Kripa for nine years, Nila has many heart-rending stories to tell -- like that of a resident of one of the neighboring villages who saw that his home had caught fire. Knowing his wife was trapped inside, he rushed into the burning house to rescue her, but it was too late. The wife died that same day.
As a mourning husband, he was left alone with third-degree burns on his hands and arms. First treated at another hospital and still after ten months unable to move his hands and fingers, he was brought to AIMS hospital to undergo a series of surgeries. After several operations and additional physiotherapy at Amrita Kripa Hospital, his condition improved considerably.
Ferdinand, the other physiotherapist, works with children who, due to a birth trauma, suffer from disabilities such as epilepsy or paralysis. These children as babies often don't respond to the parental display of affection. After a while, parents become frustrated and no longer try to elicit a smile from their child and sadly, they reduce giving their child attention, to the basic minimal care.
As a result of this emotional deprivation, the child's brain doesn't receive enough stimulation and consequently his or her condition deteriorates. In such cases it is the physiotherapist's duty to inform these often poorly educated parents of the importance of providing adequate sensory stimulation to their babies. "It is amazing to observe how much those children, whose parents understand and implement the explanations, improve after only a few weeks," he reveals.
During the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, Amrita Kripa also played a crucial role in assisting the severely affected population of the region. On a daily average, 400 victims were treated at the hospital. The Alappad Panchayat Peninsula, where the ashram is located, was one of Kerala's worst hit areas, with 42 casualties and several hundred people losing homes.
Amrita Kripa Hospital, Mumbai
Since 1995, this hospice has been providing free care, medical services and spiritual solace to patients suffering from terminal cancer. Through its dispensary, the hospice also provides free medicine, rice and other food items to the poor. Books are also regularly distributed to impoverished children.
In a society where only a handful can afford the high cost of treatment and personal care, the majority of terminally ill patients are considered a burden by both family and society. These individuals often undergo intense physical and psychological suffering and are left to die a death lacking in dignity.
A hospice provides specialized care in a homelike setting to patients during their final stage of life, by helping to address their fears and concerns as well as by supplying palliative comfort for their physical symptoms.
The Amrita Kripa Sagar Hospice near Mumbai inaugurated in 1995 by Dr. P.C. Alexander, Governor of Maharashtra, consists of a main building with accommodations for 50 patients, medical facilities to relieve pain and lessen suffering, a kitchen, meditation and prayer hall, residential quarters for in-house medical and nursing staff, mortuary and crematory.
The main staff consists of two medical doctors, one nurse, one pharmacist and two cleaning staff. There are also six part-time receptionists, who are all devotees doing selfless service. All the services provided are free of cost for patients.;
Patients from all social classes are usually referred from Tata Cancer Hospital. Some also arrive from other hospitals. The average time a patient spends at this institution is one month; usually it varies between three to four months and just a few days.
In order to make patients feel at home in the hospice during their final stage of life, every imaginable effort is made. For example, Marathi patients will receive Marathi food. Patients from other ethnic groups will, whenever possible, receive their own local cuisine.
The relevance of a welcoming, warm atmosphere for alleviating patient distress is demonstrated in an incident related by Bri. Amrita Sri, a former long-term nurse of the hospice.
"Shanta Bai was around 65 and full of anxieties in the final stage of oral cancer. When her cousin brought her to the center, her tongue was protruding through a hole in her chin. On seeing her deplorable condition, around sunset I spontaneously had the idea to bring a keyboard to the main hall and told a devotee to play some music."
"Shanta Bai was placed in the main hall among others and after listening the music for a while, to everybody’s surprise, she stood up and started dancing. Seeing this, I immediately told all devotes present at that moment to join in. After a short time, whoever was able to do so, be it staff members or patients, was dancing joyfully. It was a unique, unforgettable experience" she recalls.
This experience continued to repeat daily at dusk, and three weeks later Shanta Bai died peacefully. Amma’s devotees assist the staff in taking care of patients’ needs by washing their clothes, giving them a bath, even dressing wounds or administering their daily medicine. Many often have bed sores, due to lying bed for often months, which need special care.
Most of the patients’ health is so poor that they are limited to remaining in bed all day. Some try to meditate or do yoga.
Bri. Amrita Sri also gave several examples that bear evidence of the human capacity to make the best out of the even most difficult circumstances.
"Motilal, a 70 year old Muslim widower, was terminally ill with kidney cancer and deeply depressed when he was brought by his nephew to the hospice. At home there was nobody to take care of him. According to the medical records he was expected to live for maybe three to four more months.""Since he showed interest in gardening, he was asked to water the plants in the hospice garden whenever he was able to do so. He immediately accepted and would also spend long hours relaxing there. Then, out of his own initiative, he started to look after those patients whose condition was even worse than his, calling the staff whenever hi s fellow patients displayed some need."