Pope’s hospital strives to overcome scandals, serve peripheries

Pope Francis greets a patient during an unannounced visit to children at Bambino Gesupediatric hospital in Palidoro, outside Rome

Rome’s papally-sponsored children’s hospital Bambino Gesù is putting the emphasis on serving the peripheries of the world.

During the past year, Bambino Gesù suffered as two of its former executives faced a Vatican trial over charges of diverting funds meant for the care of children into rehabbing the apartment of a powerful Vatican cardinal.  Yet during the same year, Bambino Gesù emerged as a global leader to offer care to children with difficult-to-treat disorders.

The hospital has worked to make sure that half of its medical directors are women, that it’s reduced energy consumption by 8.2 percent in keeping with Francis’s 2015 environmental encyclical Laudatosi, and employing 700 researchers dedicated to treating rare pediatric diseases.

The 2017 “Social Balance and the Health and Science Report,” released last week, shows the hospital made significant change to recover from economic and financial scandals. Today, the pope’s children’s hospital is reinventing itself and presenting a new image, strongly imprinted in Francis’s papacy of being a hospital “that reaches out,” welcoming people and caring for the environment.

The hospital registered over $377 million in income and over $366 million in costs in 2017, according to the new report, resulting in a gross operating margin of about $11 million .

Bambino Gesù is the oldest pediatric hospital in the world, founded nearly 150 years ago, and a leader in providing children transplants. When Francis pays a visit to sick children on “Mercy Fridays,” this is where he often goes. When First Lady Melania Trump visited the Vatican, she too stopped at Bambino Gesù.

“We express satisfaction for the hospital’s growth,” said Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope’s top aide. “The pope holds Bambino Gesù close to his heart.” The pontiff sees the facility as “a valuable instrument for the exercise of charity, one for which he cares deeply.”

The hospital witnessed a five percent increase in the number of patients last year, and a 60 percent increase in its ambulatory services.  Fifteen percent of Bambino Gesù’s clients hail from countries all over the world, according to the report, and in 2017 the hospital offered 134 free clinical operations, 55 of which were for children coming from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. “Children in danger or in conflict find a cure and a home here,” Parolin said.

Through a network of non-profit organizations and hotels, Bambino Gesù offers 200 free beds for families in need of a place to stay while children are cured at the hospital. In 2017, over 3,500 families were able to use these facilities.

In line with Francis’s Year of Mercy Jubilee initiatives, the hospital catered to over 1,500 children living on the peripheries of the world. With the help of the Holy See, up to 89 children in emergency situations were brought in via helicopter to the Vatican and then the hospital. In addition, the hospital sponsors humanitarian projects in nine countries around the world.

Today the institute has gone above and beyond the pope’s call, by deciding to provide care to so-called “incurable children.” Research requires enormous resources and the hospital has up to 700 researchers working at the facility. In 2017, 15 new diseases were discovered and Bambino Gesù treated a staggering total of 13,000 children with rare diseases.