Daily Star: New medical center to cater to elderly, drug addicts

Elise Knutsen

SHOUKINE, Lebanon: An ambitious new medical complex is under construction in south Lebanon that, when completed, would bring the country its first geriatric hospital and the region’s largest drug rehabilitation facility.

Medrar, the Lebanese-American organization mounting the multimillion-dollar project, hopes the hospital will bring jobs, capital and much needed medical services to the under-served region.

Construction on the 190-bed complex began a few months ago, with a large geriatric facility, a drug rehabilitation center and a small hospital in the works. According to Medrar President Dunia Berry, it is expected to be completed in the next two years. The parcel of land the center is situated on is located just a few kilometers from the town of Nabatieh and was donated by a family.

The project was born of a personal experience, Medrar CEO Rami Harajli explained.

“It started with just one case,” he told The Daily Star. “A man we knew had Parkinson’s [Disease] and needed special medical attention.”

When Harajli contacted the few hospitals in south Lebanon with geriatric departments, however, he was met with a stark reality: “They told us they already have waiting lists.”

Medrar proceeded to conduct studies in the region and discovered that residents often complained about the lack of high-quality medical care for elderly patients.

At the same time, Harajli and his team discovered that families in south Lebanon were quietly suffering from inadequate drug rehabilitation options in the area. “We’ve got parents calling us, saying they want help for their kids and can’t find proper treatment,” he said.

While the medical complex will also include a 20-bed hospital, world-class geriatric care and substance abuse treatment will “define” MMC, according to Ali al-Hajj a health care consultant working on the project.

The 114-bed center for elderly care will be the first dedicated geriatric hospital in Lebanon, architect Hisham Nasser said.

The drug treatment facility, with 50 beds, will be “the best in the Middle East,” Nasser added, and is likely to attract patients from across the region.

Negotiations with a private Gulf-based donor to finance construction of the drug treatment center are being finalized, according to Harajli.

When fully operational, Hajj said the medical complex would employ between 800 and 1,000 people.

Linking MMC with a creditable research institution, Hajj added, was also key to its success.

“In that respect, the institution has … attracted the attention of one of the most reputable institutions in Lebanon, the American University of Beirut Medical Center.”

“We are currently in negotiations with AUBMC,” Harajli said. “We’re working to get them to manage the hospital, and it looks really positive.”

He expected a decision regarding AUBMC’s participation in the project to be made within a month.

AUBMC could not be reached for comment.

As European ambassadors visited the site Sunday, Nasser touted MMC’s environmental aspects.

“It will be an eco-friendly project. We are going to be using a lot of alternate energy, including solar, wind and also geothermal energy.”

The project, which will cost $40 million to construct and outfit, has received significant financing from private donors and organizations already. But Nasser appealed to the gathered ambassadors for help, particularly on the project’s green features, which require additional funds.

“We are in need of solar panels, wind [turbines], anything that anyone can provide, we can incorporate,” he said.

Angelina Eichhorst, the European Union’s Ambassador to Lebanon, lauded the project and the “effectiveness of [its] management.”

Hester Somsen, the Dutch Ambassador to Lebanon, said that she was impressed with the “visionary” project.

“It caters to medical difficulties that might not be on the radar screen. It seems to be extremely well organized and planned.”

Amal MP Yassine Jaber, who represents Nabatieh, said the Ambassador’s tour of the site had symbolic significance.

“Over the years, we [in south Lebanon] have received a lot of ambassadors,” he told the group. “It’s always about bombardment by Israel, or war that took place, or rebuilding, reconstruction after a war. But today we are meeting to view a project for the future.”