Iam absolutely awestruck and speechless… and am experiencing such a great feeling as I stand here before you at this wonderful hospital. A hospital that has been built and equipped at a cost of ₹20 crore, and in just 45 days,” said RI President Shekhar Mehta, participating in an event where a 401-bed state-of-the-art Covid hospital built by Rotarians in Erode was handed over to the Erode Government Medical College Hospital.
Totally overwhelmed at the magnitude, timing and lightning speed of the project, he told PDG Dr E K Sagadhevan, RID 3203, the moving spirit behind the project: “You have not made only my day, but my whole year as RI president. For it takes a lot of courage to embark on a project of this magnitude and to complete it with such finesse in such a short time is not only a Rotary feat but an engineering marvel.”
Mehta said that he was a builder by profession and “normally, just the foundation takes around 40–45 days in a building. But here you have constructed an entire building in 45 days. Not just the building, you’ve also equipped it as a hospital to the last oxygen supply level. This is simply remarkable and I am sure it will go into the annals of Rotary history as one of the best projects ever done. In my 36 years in Rotary, I don’t think I have seen a single project of this magnitude.”
In my 36 years in Rotary, I don’t think I have seen a single project of this magnitude.
— Shekhar Mehta, RI President
Another big positive was that the extra beds would allow the training of 150 additional doctors through this medical college hospital.
In a lighter vein, he referred to Sagadhevan’s speech where he had said the hospital project team had decided to take it to this magnitude because Mehta always urged Rotarians to make bigger and bolder projects. “Well, I keep saying this all the time and am so happy that it has made such a big impact here.”
Earlier, giving details of the genesis of the hospital project, PDG Sagadhevan said that during the second wave of the Covid pandemic in May, when there were no hospital beds available in the region — Coimbatore, Salem and Erode — “and people were going from one hospital to another in ambulances, hooked to oxygen machines, and sometimes even dying because they could not get an ICU bed,” Rtn Sivabalan, a member of RC Erode, approached the dean of the Govt Hospital Dr Mani. He offered to donate 75 Covid beds from Rotary, but the dean wondered where he would put all those beds and suggested that the Rotarians also give a hospital building to put those beds. This is a teaching hospital and is located in a gigantic campus stretching to 300 acres in Erode.
Huge CSR donations
Sagadhevan added that this hospital had 1,000 beds but not one was available for patients during the height of the second wave. “We felt that if the predicted third wave comes, this region should have additional capacity to treat Covid patients.” The government hospital provided the land, and soon what began as a ₹75 lakh project exploded into a ₹20 crore project, which included two TRF global grants totalling around ₹1.5 crore ($200,000). As the Rotarians went into a huddle to raise the money — ₹14.5 crore for the building and the remaining ₹5.5 crore for medical equipment — the builder, Rtn K Nandagopal, an AKS member from RC Tirupur South, suggested that precast technology should be used as the hospital needed to come up at the earliest. “As we had no money to begin with, he himself came forward to donate ₹1 crore for this project. We formed a trust — Rotary Health Care Trust — and without any hesitation 125 Rotarians from Erode donated ₹5 lakh each, and we made all of them trustees.”
Next, they tapped CSR funds and managed to get ₹2 crore from Shakthi Masala group, ₹2 crore from the Olirum Erodu Foundation, and ₹1 crore from Nani Agro Foods which makes Aditya masala.
Sagadhevan is the Founder trustee, S Sengottuvan, past president of RC Erode, is the president of the Trust, Sivabalan the secretary, and everybody who donated a substantial amount is either an executive trustee or a trustee. He added that there were no corners cut in equipping the hospital, and all the beds have oxygen supply; there are 58 ICU beds, 58 dialysis beds. “Once Covid is behind us, this will be converted into a non-Covid Rotary specialty hospital, with consultation rooms, four operation theatres, etc. The hospital has been designed keeping future possibilities in mind,” he added.
Striking an emotional note, he said what had enthused the core team involved in the project the most was the thought that “this permanent hospital will continue to save lives beyond our lifetime; that is our objective. As we worked day and night to bring it up in record time, there were 1,000 Covid cases in this government hospital, and our family members were most anxious about the danger of our getting infected, but we continued and completed the project.”
In India, we make temples, but today you have created a temple of service, hope and healing in an incredible short span of 45 days.
— Mahesh Kotbagi, RI Director
He also thanked DG K Shanmughasundaram, and PDG P M Sivashankaran for their “total involvement and support”, adding that this unique project had achieved the double objective of not only enhancing Rotary’s public image, but also growing Rotary. “As the construction began, many non-Rotarians contributed ₹5 lakh for it, and later joined Rotary; over 100 new members have been added by RCs Erode and Erode Central thanks to this project.” Rotarians from other neighbouring districts have contributed ₹2 lakh and joined as trustees; the Trust now has 11 executive trustees, 125 trustees and over 200 members.
He added, “We find several times that club members don’t contribute for projects; but this time the money came in from club members in Erode, neighbouring clubs, our entire district (3203) and also neighbouring districts, with several PDGs contributing.” Money has come from other countries too; anybody from any country could contribute and become a trustee.
Addressing the meet, Dr Mani, dean of the hospital, said that during the second wave, as people were dying for lack of hospital beds with oxygen “I was in extreme agony and could not sleep. But I believe in two things — prayers, and gratitude. I am extremely thankful to Rotary and Rotarians who came forward to help us in our time of need. I sleep much better now because I have an additional 401 beds, thanks to Rotary.”
But, he added, having built such a quality hospital, the Rotarians needed to do him another favour. “At some point I will go, but you should promise me that you will maintain the hospital that you have built.”
A temple of hope and healing
RI Director Mahesh Kotbagi, a doctor himself who runs a hospital in Pune, said: “I am speechless, and don’t have the words today. In India, we make temples, but today you have created a temple of service, hope and healing in an incredible short span of 45 days. Collecting ₹20 crore in 45 days is akin to collecting half a crore of rupees a day. I would urge you to add to the existing capacity and make the area 1 lakh sqft.”
Recalling his own anxiety and agony during the second wave of Covid at his Pune hospital, Kotbagi said that one day when one of his staff members told him that “we have 160 patients in ICU and in the next four hours we will run out of liquid oxygen, my heart skipped a beat. I became breathless when I heard this. We doctors are in an industry where day in and day out we deal with people who come with pain, suffering, agony. Creating a hospital is a tough job, but running a hospital and maintaining it is tougher.” Hence Dr Mani, the dean, had done a very smart thing by asking Rotary to also maintain the hospital and “I assure him that Rotary will do this.”
RI Director A S Venkatesh, referring to Dr Mani’s words that he could not sleep during the worst phase of the second wave of Covid, congratulated the Rotarians for “this amazing project. You have done great service by coming forward to help him. A true Rotarian is one, who when he sees a child not going to a school, thinks about not just putting her in school, but building a school for that child. You have done the same by building a hospital to put the beds you had originally offered, and come to the rescue of Dr Mani.”
Referring to President Mehta’s oft-repeated mantra of “do more and grow more” Venkatesh said: “He is never satisfied with doing anything small, and he doesn’t hesitate to tell us so on our face. That is the kind of inspiration and motivation he has given all Rotarians. Today you have made him proud by doing this project and proving that if you find a good cause, the money will come, as it did — all of ₹20 crore. And you achieved the amazing feat of building a hospital in 45 days using new technology.”
Addressing the meet, TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty said all those who donated for this project “have made a magnanimous gesture, but what satisfies me is that TRF has also supported this project by sanctioning two GGs, each around ₹75 lakh for equipping the hospital. I congratulate you Rotarians for your enthusiasm and ingenuity in coming up with such a unique project.”
Mehta had the last word when he said: “If there is a third wave of Covid… I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, how well you would have served the community and what a huge contribution you would have made in saving lives by creating this hospital. Thank you RID Venky and Dr Saga for the leadership you provide in your region… I salute you both.”
He had always maintained that “the greatest reward for service is the opportunity to do more service. And in this journey of service there are no goals to reach, only milestones to cross. Now the next project you do can’t be smaller, it has to be bigger and bolder.” If this was done, Mehta promised to come once again to inaugurate such a project during his presidential year.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
PDG E K Sagadhevan said that even as the project was expanding, the trustees were aware that they were going to create a record of sorts in building a hospital of 69,200 sqft in a record time of 45 days with precast, innovative technology. “So we applied for four records; their representatives came and inspected the site even as the construction was going on and we have managed to enter four record books, for being the largest hospital built through pre-cast technology in a record time of 45 days.”
This project has been certified in the Elite World Record, Asian Records Academy, Indian Records Academy and Tamilan Book of Records.