Early years of the R.E. Mission
Our history should probably called a ‘her-story’ since for the first 70 odd years of the Reformed Episcopal Mission in Lalitpur and the HBM hospital women have played a vital role in shaping and running a hospital named after a woman.
In 1889 Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon arrived in India from the United States, having lost her pastor husband a few years earlier and hearing God’s call to serve Him with her remaining years as missionary. A bold pioneer, Mrs. Bacon came to the small town of Lalitpur in 1890. She established the Reformed Episcopal Mission in Lalitpur by using the bulk of her own funds to purchase a bungalow and some land on which she started a school for girls.
Responding with Christian love, Mrs. Bacon then began an orphanage to care for children left parentless by the repeated famines and disease outbreaks of cholera and small pox which characterized that era. After the work grew, Mrs. Bacon deeded her Lalitpur properties to the Foreign Missionary Board of the Reformed Episcopal Church of America.
Tragically, Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon herself succumbed to cholera in 1900 after spending 10 years of service in Lalitpur in the name and spirit of her Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Her grave lies in the Lalitpur Christian cemetary today as a testimony to a life lived for others.
Mrs. Bacon’s successor, Rev. David T. Van Horne joined her from the United States in 1899, having been deeply moved to serve Christ in the then fledgling work in Lalitpur.
Soon after Van Horne’s arrival, he married a British lady-missionary who was then working with Mrs. Bacon – with Mrs. Bacon herself being at the wedding. The newly united Rev. and Mrs Van Horne were well placed to take over the R.E. Mission after Mrs. Bacon’s untimely death.
After 15 years of loving service, however, Rev. David T. Van Horne himself died of small pox in 1914 leaving his wife and young children bereft.
Establishing the HBM Hospital
The R.E. Mission continued to serve from the through the school and orphanage and in 1934 started a medical work which developed into a woman’s hospital. This hospital was named after Ms. Harriet Benson, a wealthy American spinster. After supporting the mission work in various ways in her life, Ms. Benson generously endowed the Foreign Mission Board of the Reformed Episcopal Church of America in her legacy. Funds from this inheritance helped establish the HBM hospital.
The Harriet Benson Memorial hospital was initially run primarily as a maternity hospital and was led by missionary nurses for many years into the late 1960s. The names of Ms. Beckwith and Ms. Fleu were the last of this line of nurses – and serve as reminders of decades of faithful selfless service.
In 1973 the HBM hospital joined the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) – a coalition of Indian Christian hospitals primarily serving in North India. The Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital Society has been a unit of EHA since then. In 1982 the Foreign Missionary Board of the R.E. Church of America handed over the hospital land and declared the EHA as a successor trustee.
The EHA Years
The 40 plus years of the HBM hospital being part of the EHA are marked by an expansion of services including building a surgical theatre, providing eye services, and pioneering community health work started by Dr. N.K. Bachhan and most recently innovating in palliative care for rural communities initiated by Dr. Ann Thyle.
Over these past 4 decades , the HBM hospital has been blessed by generations of faithful and sacrificial EHA staff who have given precious years of their lives to serve the people of the Lalitpur district with the love of Christ. Besides the long-serving Dr. and Mrs. Bachhan, the names of Dr. Uttam Mohapatra, Dr. Santosh Daniel, Drs. Samuel and Ruati Tonsing and many other medical leaders have been etched in the hearts of many who were blessed to be cared for at HBM hospital. Numerous nurses and other allied health staff have also served over the years and their contributions too have saved lives and provided succor to the sick and dying who have sought help at the HBM hospital.
Building on the community health work started by Dr. Bachhan, the late 1990s saw a flowering of watershed management and sanitation projects under the leadership of Mr. Antony Samy. It is no accident that a number of community based organisations in Lalitpur today owe their genesis to the path-breaking interventions for this era.
Dr. Ann Thyle has added another unique contribution with her path-breaking establishment of the rural Palliative Care work at HBM hospital in 2006. This work has been taken forward by Ms. Leela Pradhan and is now being replicated in other EHA hospitals across North and North-East India.
Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital today: living out the next historical legacy…
The HBM hospital today builds on this historical legacy of service as a 40 bedded unit of the Emmanuel Hospital Association. Through the essential clinical services, compassionate palliative care, public health and community empowerment and training activities the HBM hospital family seeks to carry on the flame of selfless service in the name of Jesus Christ to the various peoples of the Lalitpur District and beyond.