From 1912 to 1926, the Sanatorium was conducted as private
institution, but once having placed it on a sound footing,
Dr. Billimoria, to ensure its continuity, transferred the
management of this Institution to Board of Trustees. This
arrangement worked satisfactorily but a few years before
his death Dr. Billimoria transferred the management of the
hospital in 1965 to the Indian Red Cross Society and from
thereon to date, it has been a Red Cross project.
This arrangement worked smoothly till the nineties, but
from 1980 budgetary constraints and receding public health
care funding by the State Government, this important source
of funding dried up, with the State reneging on its health
care obligation. This was a lethal blow to an important
public health Institution.
Another relevant feature was that the Sanatorium was always
run on totally secular lines with no distinction of caste
or creed or religion. Over the years the sanctity of this
principle has been preserved and respected. And yet the
vast property, the capital cost of its development and the
large outlays on restructuring and upgradation and the cash
donations needed for its maintenance and continuity have
been the handiwork, by and large, of the Zorashtrian Community
that has donated crores for the benefit of humanity.
The Golden Jubilee celebrations in May 1962 was a land
mark event in the annals of Bel-Air, when the Union Health
Minister Dr. Sushila Nayyar in the presence of distinguished
gathering, (which included among other, Minister of Housing
and Civil Supplies, Shri Homi J. H. Taleyarkhan, and ex-Governor
of Maharashtra Sri Prakasa), spoke of the signal contribution
made by Dr. Billimoria to society and described him as a
“Pioneer of the Anti TB movement in India.”
A man of few words, deeply religious and known for his impeccable
integrity, Dr. Billimoria’s main contribution was
the decisive breakthrough in the treatment of TB which earned
him the award, ‘The Padma Bhushan.’ Here, a
passing reference to his life partner, his second wife Gulestan
Bhadurji might be in order, for she was major influence
on his work. She absorbed his dreams and responded to his
determination. Rustomjee shunned the limelight and it was
Gulestan who presided at all Bel-Air functions and gave
the welcome address to Governor. Although both were temperamentally
different, they helped and supported one another throughout
their lives. Their combined contribution, his on the medical
front and hers on the social, served Bel-Air well in resolving
several knotty issues.
But as in the case of all institutions, Bel-Air’s
fortunes waxed and waned after the sixities. For the first
fifteen years (1965 to 1980) Red Cross Management saw Bel-Air
develop and grow. The hospital capacity had grown to 250
beds. There was a well equipped laboratory for carrying
out bio-chemical and pathological tests and microbiological
culture. Recreational facilities and occupational rehabilitation
training were also made available to all patients. But in
the mid eighties, Bel-Air entered a slow but steady phase
of decline. The discovery of second generation Anti-TB drugs
and the consequent shift to domiciliary treatment resulted
in sharp drop in the occupancy rate. Added to this, there
was donor fatigue. The financial constraint, coupled with
erratic budgetary support from the Government has its impact
on staff appointments and staff efficiency. Appointment
of trained medical staff became difficult and maintenance
and upgradation of medical care became well high impossible.
Unacceptable pricing of drugs made access to treatment difficult.
All these factors threatened to wipe Bel-Air off the public
health care map.
God has his mysterious ways preserving the memory of pious
and noble benefactor like Dr. Billimoria. Just when the
Bel-Air management was in search of viable alternative,
Father Tomy of the MCBS Congregation accidentally appeared
on the scene. He had gone to Panchgani as a tourist and
chanced upon seeing Bel-Air. Father Tomy’s interest
in Bel-Air was sharpened when he saw the vast estate almost
in ruins and the potential for its development. He approached
the Red Cross authorities in Bombay with a proposal that
his Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (MCBS)
would be willing to manage the hospital as a Red Cross project.
This resulted in the Red Cross signing an agreement in 1994
with the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament
(MCBS), entrusting the administration of Bel-Air Hospital
to the MCBS and appointing Fr.Tomy as the Administrator.
The initial revival phase was painful and, to say the least,
traumatic. Even the basic infrastructure and equipment needed
for managing a handful of TB patients (to be precise 30
in three wards), was lacking. The system was functioning,
so to say, on a respirator, with just three nun sisters,
Sr. Dawn, Sr. Rexia and Sr. Rose Thomas shouldering the
entire burden of keeping Bel-Air going with professional
nursing help. Even critical ancillary equipment needed for
removal of sputum from the throats of patients who developed
breathlessness, could not be purchased owing to acute financial
stringency. Father Tomy who had just been appointed as the
Administrator had a daunting task in front of him. From
the moment he took charge, he recognized that he needed
to mobilize resource for the turnaround of fortunes of Bel-Air.
In this he received the full support of the Chairman and
Managing Committee of Bel-Air, who through their contacts
were able to raise the seed money needed for the turnaround
of Bel-Air. Once again, it was the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust
that came to the rescue of Bel-Air. Mr. Rusi Lala, the executive
head of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, got his Trust to sanction
on a recurring basis, a respectably large donation to rebuild
the eroded corpus and this donation played a catalytic role
in getting things moving at Bel-Air. Aside from obtaining
resources, admitting patients for treatment, strengthening
the staff and clarifying the governance of the Hospital
as well as upgrading its facilities, were major elements
of Fr. Tomy’s agenda.
Financial tightness was one element of the Bel-Air crisis.
The other more serious and intractable problem was labour
unrest. Under the influence of the labour unions, the support
staff turned militant, threatening the professional, medical
and nursing staff and 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 and forcing
the police to place the Administrator in the lock up for
Bel-Air management took serious note of the developments
and forthwith declared a lockout for two long months. This
meant shifting patients to Satara and Pune. This situation
impressed upon the Chairman and the members of the Maharashtra
State Red Cross the necessity of making far reaching changes
at Bel-Air, in fact of overhauling the entire set-up. It
was a challenge that was unflinchingly accepted.
From then on the restructuring of Bel-Air proceeded smoothly.
It has overcome some seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
thanks to the dogged perseverance and tenacity of the Administrator,
supported by the medical faculty and the nursing staff.
The new Management Committee appointed to help in the restructuring
of this health care Institution, recognized the potential
of the hospital to act as a catalyst serving large rural
population, for Bel-Air is the only hospital of its kind
in the Satara District. It was further recognized that if
the hospital had to satisfy the most urgent needs of the
surrounding population it had to enlarge its services by
adding departments like orthopedic, pediatrics and general
medicine. Even an ICU, which is an indispensable part of
a modern hospital, has found a place on the Bel-Air Hospital
map. And after much debate and careful consideration and
moving with the times, Bel-Air Hospital complex added an
Ayurvedic and Naturopathy Centre giving a new dimension
to the Red Cross Health Care projects. Within a short span
of two years, it has become a fairly popular form of treatment.
This project was conceived for the upper and middle segments
of health conscious society and income generated from the
project was intended to subsidize the losses incurred in
running the main hospital and the TB and AIDS ward.
The success achieved at revamping Bel-Air has indeed been
remarkable. In this, Fr. Tomy provided the leadership and
a mission – an essential determinant of organizational
performance. His contribution and that of the medical and
nursing staff, have provided critical input in operating
a large public health care facility in a remote part of
the State and under rapidly changing health care environment.
This was tellingly brought out in the remarks made by Dr.
P.C. Alexander, former Governor of Maharashtra, when he
visited Bel-Air in the summer of 2001. He is reported to
have said “ I have visited Bel-Air regularly during
the last eight years since I have been the Governor of the
State. I am impressed by the change I see today.
Today Bel-Air is a full fledged general hospital with 250
beds in departments of general medicine, Orthopedics, Paediatrics,
Gynaecology, TB and HIV medicine. There are also weekly
clinics for Ophthalmology, Skin & VD. There is a modern
dental clinic, ICU and operation theatre block which are
the best in the district. Bel-Air has all the extra facilities
like Pathological Laboratory, X-ray Laboratory, ECG and
There is always medical staff on duty 24 hours a day. Bel-Air
provides the staff with quarters so in that they live and
work in Bel-Air. Many of the workers and drivers are HIV
positive. There is a fully equipped kitchen which provides
food for the patients as well as for staff. The food served
to patients and staff is the same.
MEMBERS OF THE BEL-AIR COMMITTEE
|Fr.Tomy K M.C.B.S.
|Sr. Lourdu Mary JMJ
||Director of Nursing
|Mr. Jithin Jose Tom
|Dr. Aruna Rasal
||Chief Medical Officer