In the heart of Bethlehem, just steps away from the birthplace of Christ, Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem serves women and infants in one of the poorest areas in the West Bank. Despite the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, the hospital continues to offer its life-giving services, even as many patients are unable to pay for their care.

To support the hospital and their efforts to provide medical care to those in need in the Bethlehem area, people are invited to join in prayer for the end of the coronavirus pandemic and to donate financially and help cover the costs of this essential care.

The Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation, located in Washington, D.C., exists to provide support for the Holy Family Hospital, which brings unmatched care to the West Bank.

“We look upon ourselves as the ‘Modern Manger,’ (and) the inn that turns nobody away,” Kathryn Abell said. Abell is a founding member of the foundation and she currently sits on its board of directors.

When the coronavirus hit the Bethlehem region, one of the poorest areas in the West Bank, many people lost their jobs and were unable to pay for necessary costs such as medical care.

“Most families that come to our hospital earn less than $800 a month,” Abell said. “With the loss of income that they’ve suffered because of COVID, a lot of these families don’t even have enough money to eat much less pay anything for medical care.”

So while the hospital typically subsidizes about half of the cost of care for a mother delivering her new baby, the hospital has had to cover the entirety of the costs in recent months.

“We have to subsidize many patients for 100 percent, which has created not only a demand for clinical services, but also an increase in request for financial assistance,” Abell said.

The hospital and the foundation are committed to continuing to provide care for those in need.

“Because people (in this area) are so poor and because our mission is never to turn anyone away for any reason whether it’s their national status or their religion or their inability to pay, we never, ever turn anyone away,” Abell said. “Yet, we have to pay our staff and we have hospital costs that any hospital has.”

Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem is home to the only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on the West Bank that is able to deliver and care for premature infants.

“We really serve the poorest of the poor, and there is still good news coming out of Bethlehem despite COVID,” Abell said.

Abell also applauded the physicians and other staff who still provide care at the Holy Family Hospital, despite their pay being cut due to a smaller stream of income since the pandemic.

“Like many medical professionals and medical providers all around the world, our doctors have been very, very heroic. We had to cut their salaries for a while, that was tough for them because many… are supporters of a very large extended family,” she said.

Those who are interesting in learning more about the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem or donating financially to help support their work can visit birthplaceofhope.org for more information.

“I feel like this hospital really belongs to all Christians – it’s doing so much work that has so much similarity to the Holy Family coming to Bethlehem under much hardship, and I think that it’s a way we put our Christian beliefs and what He (Jesus) taught us by helping the poor there now,” Abell said.

“It’s just a wonderful way to see Christianity in action in our day… It’s a wonderful happy place and I think it’s really significant that there is still good news coming out of Bethlehem,” she said.

During pandemic, Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem offers ‘room at the inn’ for mother and newborn son in crisis

(This account of a family recently helped by Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem was written by Kathryn Abell from the Washington-based foundation that supports the hospital’s outreach.)

It was May 25, and all of the West Bank Occupied Territory was shut down, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. All businesses, all roads were closed, and people were cautioned not to leave their immediate neighborhoods.

With the sudden lockdown on March 5, 90% of the region’s workforce instantly lost their livelihoods, including a poor young laborer in a remote village. But not that, or anything else, could take away the young man’s happiness, because he and his wife were expecting their first child.

So, when on May 25, his wife began to have labor pains, the man had no choice. He bundled his wife carefully into the back seat of a borrowed car and took her to the nearest hospital.

We are so sorry, the doctor there told him, but your wife’s labor is coming seven weeks too early. There is nothing we can do to save a baby born so prematurely. Your baby is not viable.

The young couple’s happy anticipation turned to abject grief. Their first baby was not to be!

A nurse saw their sadness and told them there was one small hope.

IF they got back in the car,

IF they could talk their way through the soldiers manning the roadblocks,

IF they could get to the one place on the West Bank, Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, with the only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that can save babies like theirs,

IF they could hurry, things might still turn out okay.

The nurse said she would call ahead to alert Holy Family Hospital they were on their way.

With his wife in more and more pain in the back seat, the young man got behind the wheel. What with his nervousness and never having talked to soldiers before, and delays at the roadblocks, the typical 45-minute trip took at least twice as long.

And with only 10 minutes to go, the young wife announced she could not go on. Stop! Pull over!, she ordered. 

Babies wait for nothing to be born -- not pandemics, not a financial crisis, not better conditions!

All the young man could do was to help his wife deliver their baby in the back seat of the car --- a dad’s worse nightmare. 

And when finally the young couple had the moment they had been waiting for, they could see that their baby boy was so tiny and so weak that he could not live. 

The young man was heartbroken. He thought he would lose his son, but he could not lose his wife, too. He continued on to Holy Family Hospital.

The medical staff at Holy Family was waiting. They whisked both baby and mother into intensive care, and, after a time, both began to improve. 

Baby Yata, who weighed 2 lbs. at birth, today is alive after a month of High Level Three Intensive Care --available nowhere on the West Bank but Holy Family Hospital.

Yata has to be taught to breathe and to eat, but he is going to make it. He will remain in the NICU until he can safely be released into his parent’s care. He will be followed by the hospital’s Child Development Center until he is 5 years old. Holy Family Hospital, through its donors, will assist with financial costs.

Yata’s mom and dad are so grateful to Holy Family Hospital for turning what could have been a family disaster into a miracle.

When the new dad held his tiny son in his arms for the first time, he knew he was holding hope for the future. A baby changes everything.

Despite dire political, economic, and health conditions in the West Bank, there is still good news coming out of Bethlehem. Holy Family Hospital is its clarion. 

(For information on Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem and how to supports its programs, go to birthplaceofhope.org.)