Fr. Tomy Kariyilakulam
Director, Bel-Air Hospital & College of Nursing
Bel-Air established in 1912 is situated on a 44 acre campus which was one of the best TB Sanatoria in Asia with 240 beds. Indian Red Cross Society, Maharashtra State Branch took over the hospital in 1964.
By 1990s almost all the 64 buildings had been dilapidated and just 3 were in a condition to admit patients. There wasn’t any trained medical staff, the number of patients had dipped to below twenty. Accumulated deficit was running into lakhs of rupees.
Fr.Tomy visited Bel-Air in 1993. He was horrified by the state of decrepitude. He volunteered to work to revive the hospital for just Re.1/- per month. He promised that he will help organize funds and human resources to restore the hospital. He also managed to convince MCBS authorities to allow him to take up the challenge. Accordingly Red Cross entrusted the management and administration of Bel-Air to MCBS (Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament) in 1994. Fr.Tomy K MCBS was appointed the Administrator.
The initial revival phase was painful and traumatic. Even basic infrastructure and equipment needed for managing a handful of TB patients was lacking. The system was functioning on a respirator. Fr.Tomy had the herculean task of mobilizing resources and personnel for the turnaround of Bel-Air.
The most serious problem was labour unrest. The workers were paid very low salaries that too was never regular due to financial constraints. Under the influence of two labour unions, the support staff turned militant, threatening the senior staff and were preventing them from performing their duties. Matters reached a flashpoint in 1998, when an unruly mob instigated by a section of the workers went on a rampage, attacking the staff, destroying hospital property. Fr.Tomy was paraded in the town and locked up in the police station forced by the mob leading to a lockout of the hospital for two months.
Another serious issue was encroachment on Hospital property. There were some influential political forces and rich land sharks who had set their eyes on the vast property in the hill station town. They had conspired to close down the hospital at the time of crisis and take over the land to make it a resort. When Fr. Tomy took charge of Bel-Air, its properties were not fenced and there was rampant encroachment of the land. A 4 acre plot behind Tata Tafti Block had been encroached by the neighbors. The then management of Bel-Air was not even aware that it belonged to Bel-Air and had fenced that plot out. Fr. Tomy got the land surveyed and reclaimed the land.
Three blocks had been given away to the Lions Club of North Bombay who were running a holiday home for their members and Bel-Air was paying seven employees for them without any benefit to the hospital. It was Fr.Tomy who recovered the buildings back to the hospital.
3 acre plot in Survey No. 79/1 was also encroached by 17 people who had constructed “katcha” houses in the plot. After getting Government survey done Fr.Tomy had to go to court to reclaim the land which was successfully done for the most part. A small portion of the said land is still under litigation. It is in this plot that the academic building of the College of Nursing is constructed. Today the whole 44 acres of land is fenced and free from any further encroachment.
Under Fr.Tomy’s leadership Bel-Air is transformed into a modern treatment facility for Panchgani with its operation theatres, ICU, departments of medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, paediatrics, gynaecology and obstetrics along with other special clinics. This was in addition to making Bel-Air the pioneer institute for the treatment and training for HIV/AIDS and TB in India, which was hailed even by Dr.A.P J Abdul Kalam who visited Bel-Air as the President of India in 2003. National Public Radio of America proclaimed Bel-Air as a model hospital for the developing world in 2007 (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11704607?storyId=11704607). Bel-Air was awarded the Times of India Healthcare achievers Award in 2014 for being the best in India in long time care.
Fr.Tomy was able to garner continued support from various Tata Trusts right from beginning. Over the last 20 years the Tata Trusts have disbursed Rs.2.77 crores for various projects including repair and renovation of dilapidated buildings, procuring new equipment, support towards treatment and care of patients and village health program.
As TB is making a resurgence, Bel-Air is fully committed to continue its original mission of combating TB, now with the added dimension of treating MDR TB. Bel-Air is a major NGO partner with the Government of Maharashtra and India in the implementation of Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP). The Government of Maharashtra has sanctioned a TB Unit and Drug Resistant TB Center at Bel-Air.
Bel-Air leased out 16 acre Wai Annexe to Maharashtra Government’s Silk and Khadi Board on 1st October 1962 for Rs. 1 annual rent. The lease expired in 30th September 1982. Red Cross was helpless and could not recover the property for 30 years after the expiry of the lease.
Finally Fr.Tomy took up the responsibility to recover the property in 2013. It was sheer determination and continued and constant follow up that within a year Fr. Tomy was able to recover 8 acres of land and the legal claim for the remaining 8 acres was also firmly established.
Fr.Tomy facilitated all required permissions for the hospital building at Wai and has facilitated Rs. 5 crores for the construction so far.
Human Resources and Technical expertise
The huge amount financial grants facilitated by Fr.Tomy is not perhaps his greatest contribution. He created enormous goodwill for the institution and instrumental in bringing and retaining human resources with technical / professional / medical expertise which is the bedrock of the quality of the institute. This cannot be measured in financial terms.
Remuneration of Fr.Tomy
It is to be noted that Fr.Tomy right from the time he joined in May 1994 has not drawn a single Rupee as remuneration from Bel-Air. His contribution to Bel-Air is priceless and in the current settings almost impossible to replace.
Diploma course in Medical Lab Technology
India is facing a shortage of skilled Health Care Workers including Medical Lab technicians. Even though many are passing out every year, most lack the employability due to inferior quality of training.
Bel-Air being nationally reputed for its quality of training health care workers, set up a training school for a two year Diploma course in Medical Lab Technology. The course is in affiliation with Bharat Sevak Samaj Vocational Education, National Development Agency, which is promoted by Government of India initially. Along with the approved curriculum, Bel-Air also provides special training for students in English, computer skills and software and to focus on ethical values along with grooming and personality development. This will not only generate employment to many youth specially from the villages who do not study beyond class twelfth but will also in turn solve the shortage of well qualified technicians.