Perseverance Despite Opposition: Mary Johnston Hospital in Tando, Philippines

On the recent Mission to Heal trip to the Philippines in February 2017, Dr. Geelhoed and his team visited the Mary Johnston Hospital in Tando. In his journals, Dr. Geelhoed comments on the perseverance of the hundreds year old hospital despite war, lack of funds, and changes in environment. It is hospitals like this one that Mission to Heal hopes to support and enhance by short-term medical missions.

We arrived in the very crowded tenement town of Tando and saw the squatters’ houses and the other parts of the lower edge of the Philippine society. This was the area that at the turn of the century had the highest infant death rate in the Philippines.

It was therefore the place that the Methodist Church elected to put up a hospital in 1907. The hospital was named after its principal fund donor, Mary Johnston from Minnesota, but its founder was a woman named Dr. Paris. It started out as a maternal and child health hospital and it looked like it was going to expand steadily into each of the specialities. This progress was interrupted by the unwelcome intervening of WWII which suspended everything. The hospital history book tells of the rubble and the destruction of the war when the hospital was burned down since it represented American influence in the Philippines.

But gratitude and the loyal devotion of a people under fire was the response inside Tandor, including an incident they still describe of the persecution they had to endure during the war they survived. Two Japanese snipers killed several men trying to rebuild the water barrier around it, as the hospital was once situated on the breakwater wall of the Manila Bay. The first floor salon is the only survivor of the pre-war construction other than the nursing school and missionaries’ quarters.

I admired the construction of these original buildings which were made of dark deep rich tropical hardwoods and are still well waxed and polished, even if most all the rooms are as vacant as if the memory of those days is all they can still hold on to—an island of quiet calm amid the hustling of Tandor town outside the walls.

We walked around the entire hospital and it is a good basic hospital with almost all general hospital facilities. It is now run by an indigenous board with no missionaries present as there were for its first hundred years. 

The future of this hospital was secured when Phil Health arranged to pay the minimum fees for the patients the hospital had been caring for anyway. It was another surprise to learn that Mr. Ci, the founder and owner of the SM Enterprises and a former peddler of used shoes from a push cart, now discovered that his mother was born in the Mary Johnston Hospital. In confirming this by a search among the Mary Johnston Hospital paper records it was found the Mrs. Ci and her son could confirm that story. It pays off to find a progenitor of the wealthiest man in the Philippines among the numerous “Ci’s” in their old insect-chewed paper records, since it is now being rebuilt by the Ci Foundation.

We returned from our tour of the hospital and its nursing school back to the Shalom Center. I had been pitched to make the Mary Johnston Hospital, an urban and quite functional center, one of the M2H consistent beneficiaries. It is just too far advanced to displace those with all the indigent needs everywhere around the globe that we see regularly, but it would be a good rotation for some educational affiliated center.

It has remained oddly unaffiliated with any teaching program (other than its own small school of nursing) as a rotation potential for the indigenous Philippine schools or associations abroad. It is well embedded in the community and seems politically untouchable. I viewed some of the Chinatown madding crowds and people making a living without any recognized means of support. It is this resourcefulness, which they already have, which we would like to foster.

We had toured and seen a bit of the teaming masses of the Philippine capitol with one of the best integrated districts in the country. Each of the residents and the hospital that cares for them are all survivors. I am glad that Henry Ci has remembered his roots and is helping the struggling Mary Johnston Hospital.