Profit-making was not considered a factor- Anthony Cardinal Okogie
The creation of the Diocese of Abeokuta caused the Lagos Archdiocese to cede its only big hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital to the new Diocese. The then Archbishop of Lagos, His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie (now Emeritus Archbishop of Lagos) being a man of vision, did not want the Archdiocese to rest on its past glories. He mustered huge financial resources that birthed St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital in Boge Town, along Ijede Road, Ikorodu, Lagos. The hospital was commissioned on June 20, 2011, and it clocked ten years over two weeks ago.
The growth of the hospital recorded in this past decade would not have been possible without the support of the incumbent Archbishop of Lagos, His Grace, Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, whose robust interest in the growth and development of healthcare institutions in the Archdiocese, has positioned the numerous mission healthcare institutions in the Archdiocese, towards delivering excellent medical services. The Founder, Anthony Cardinal Okogie speaks with Jane Eluwa on the humble beginning of St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital, and its ten-year journey.
Your Eminence, it is now 10 years since you built and commissioned St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital, please tell us what inspired you to build such a big hospital?
Who built? Emi ko lo ko (Yoruba sentence which means: ‘I did not build it’)! We built! Ideas/inspirations are everywhere, all we need to do is to analyse it, and apply as needed. When you consider the size of the hospital, think of the size of the land at our disposal. The land is massive. The land on which the hospital is situated was willed to us by the Gansallo Family. Back then, we intended it for a school, but the donor said ‘we too are into education’. Since we could not carry out our own intention of building a school, we thought of the other needs of the Archdiocese. So, we felt why not a hospital? So, the land formerly intended for a school became an ideal place to build a hospital. It will interest you to know that there was only one primary health centre in Ikorodu at the time. The place was like a satellite town. The poor ones living around then would come all the way to the heart of Lagos, to receive medical attention. More so, there was need for a good/major hospital owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Lagos since Abeokuta had been separated from Lagos and made a Diocese. Since the donor of the land restrained us from doing what we desired (to build a school) on the land because they also have vested interest in schools, the hospital became the best option for reasons I have highlighted above.
How did you come about the name “St. Raphael Divine Mercy”?
The name of the hospital points to our initial plan for the hospital and a bit of the history of the hospital. When we had concluded on the decision to build a hospital, it took us time to decide on the name for the hospital. We eventually agreed to name the hospital ‘Divine Mercy Hospital” because it was purposefully meant to cater for the poor and also it was at the period that the 3 ‘o clock prayer to Divine Mercy was becoming a major practice in the Archdiocese. To execute this project, we started sourcing for funds from within our Archdiocese. As time went by, we were faced with paucity of funds. This challenge and our quest for financial help took us (myself and Fr. Omonisaye CMF) to St. Raphael Hospital, Milan, Italy (an enormous hospital that sits on a massive land mass of the City). Among other conditions for partnering with us was the inclusion of St. Raphael in the nomenclature of our hospital. All the major partners of the hospital, we realised, either named their institutions after St. Raphael or included St. Raphael to the name. When we thought of this condition and the influence of St. Raphael in the life of Tobit and Sarah in the Bible, we acceded to their request and agreed to include St. Raphael as part of the name of our Divine Mercy Hospital at Ikorodu. And for the specialist, we intended to have a mini hospital modelled after the San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, where experts and best medical practices are found. Thus came our St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital.
Why did you choose to build the hospital in faraway Ikorodu and not somewhere here in mainland, Island, Victoria Island or Lekki?
Among our intentions for the hospital, profit-making was not considered a factor. More so, there are so many modern-day hospitals in these other places. Ikorodu had no good medical facility. Above all, we wanted to utilise the land that was given to us in Ikorodu. If we had been given land in these other places, maybe/maybe not we would have built a hospital there.
What was your vision for the hospital?
It is care of the poor that was our priority. Like I said earlier, people were dying for lack of basic health care in that part of Lagos. Imagine sick and frail human beings travelling from Ikorodu without serviceable road to the heart of Lagos for medical services. Some may get worse or even die before they get to any hospital. Among other factors, when I studied in Rome, I saw priests and religious who were experts in different walks of life from engineers to bankers to medical doctors, etc. And so, we envisioned tapping into the numerous indigenous expertise of our religious and lay faithful in diverse medical fields for the management of this establishment to the status of Sacred Heart Hospital, Lantoro, now in Abeokuta Diocese. If possible to be greater than and rival what Lantoro was/is in the Catholic Church of Nigeria.
How will you describe your feelings regarding what is going on in the hospital now in terms of progress made so far in these 10 years?
I am not yet too pleased, even though I recognise that the hospital is still evolving. With the recent acquisition of some state of art facilities and engagement of specialist qualified personnel, I would measure the hospital’s improvement to about forty percent from where they used to be. Truth be told, we did not start well – the beginning was rough because of lack of needed medical equipment, paucity of fund, lack of qualified medical personnel, etc. This was partly due to the breakdown of the agreement we had with San Raffaele, Italy. Our agreement would have involved: training of our personnel; Expertise and Research Exchange programmes, Support with the procurement of medical equipment and sponsorship of some of our medical projects. In fact, some of the medical equipment had been packed for shipment. However, there was a misunderstanding between St. Raffaele Hospital and the Italian government which negatively impacted our agreement with the former and marred all the arrangements and plans we had put in place. . Coming from that turbulent history, I am glad that today, the hospital has better facilities, more qualitative personnel, etc. We believe the hospital will gain more grounds in the next ten years.
What message do you have for the Management and Staff of the hospital?
To the Management, I acknowledge and appreciate their efforts to take the hospital to the next level. I am aware of their plans for the hospital as they celebrate a decade anniversary of her establishment. We still have a bit to go as regards the expertise required to manage and run the hospital. And so I encourage the current management to keep seeking for the engagement of well-trained medical personnel knowledgeable in modern day medical practices. To the Staff, thank you for your good works. Remember that this is a missionary hospital and so always be mindful of the impact you make in the lives of poor and frail patients. May God continue to bless the work of your hands.
What is your final word for all of us today?
Congratulations. Keep building on your past achievements and face future challenges with total faith in God. We believe through the intercession of your Patron Saint and diligence to duty, this hospital will get to where we envisioned it to be. God bless you all.