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Dr Fryda recounts losing St Mary's hospitals to nuns

Entrance to St. Mary's Missionary Hospital.

The dust has finally settled in a protracted court battle after American missionary Dr William Fryda chose to move on.

He shook himself off and embarked on a mission to serve, moving on from the seven-year legal battle.

A judgement delivered on September 2017 by the Nakuru Environment and Lands Court marked the beginning of a journey to kick him out of the multimillion-shilling St Mary’s Mission Hospitals.

The Catholic priest engaged in a legal tussle with the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN) over the ownership of the facility with branches in Nakuru and Nairobi. In the case filed in 2010, Dr Fryda accused ASN of trying to seize the hospitals and the land.

Dr Fryda said the land was bought through donor funds which he single-handedly sourced. He said the money used to build the hospitals in Gilgil and Lang’ata was also provided by donors.

Dr Fryda said the hospitals set up to help the poor had been held in trust by ASN since he could not own property. He told the court of an agreement that ASN would transfer the hospitals to a company in the name of St Mary’s Mission Hospital Ltd.

But Sister Marie Theresa claimed the hospitals were a project of ASN. She said the concept was developed in 1953 when the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi started.

Sister Theresa said they wanted to help the poor and the marginalised and that Dr Fryda was not part of it. She said he only came in as a medical doctor.

In his judgment, Justice Sila Munyao ordered ASN to transfer the hospitals and other properties to a charitable trust to be managed under St Mary’s Mission Hospital Ltd.

Justice Munyao rejected Dr Fryda’s claim that the hospitals were being held in trust by ASN. He said the hospitals were set up using donor funds and were a joint project between Dr Fryda and ASN. Both sides were engaged in sourcing funds and building the facilities.

“There was a joint venture to source for donor funds and Dr Fryda, in several letters before the court, did indicate the project ownership was to be under Assumption of Sisters Nairobi. The legal ownership can only be with the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi,” Justice Munyao ruled.

The judge said Dr Fryda would continue to hold his position as the medical director until the properties were transferred to the company. “It will be sad if, after all his input, Dr Fryda is cast out. It’s up to the management to agree on his position,” he said.

What followed after the judgment was a murky takeover that saw staff allied to Dr Fryda kicked out. Patients were also not spared as they had to bear the brunt of the takeover. Some of the medical equipment was vandalised and others stolen, disrupting operations.

Dr Fryda retreated to Gilgil where in 2019 he converted what used to be a medical school into a hospital, christened St Joseph Rift Valley Hospital. It is here that he found solace.

Dr Fryda tells of his journey years later. In the spirit of togetherness, a group of staff that stood with him made it possible for him to move on, he says.

Dr Wiliam Charles Fryda a missionary at St Joseph Hospital. [Hrun Wathari, Standard]

“The compound the hospital sits on was originally meant to house students. We converted it to a hospital. Through the assistance of our major donor we set up a larger educational facility.” 

Many of his classmates in the US have been his supporters over the years. Through their donations, he has been able to continue with his mission. “The same people from 30 years ago are the same that have been together.”

For Dr Fryda, a hospital is about the staff, not the structure. “The guard at the gate is equally important as the surgeon and doctor giving prescriptions.”

He said everyone has a role to play in ensuring the well-being of the patients. “It is not abut the prices.”

“You can have the best product in the world but if as a seller you do not connect with the patient, they will not feel satisfied.” 

Dr Fryda added that it is important to be aware of the people one serves. To him, confidence and calling patients by their name are significant in offering quality healthcare.

The patients’ best interest, he said, should be the hospital’s best interest. He said healthcare is not just a job but a real vocation.

St Joseph has a 100-bed capacity. On a single day, at least 120 outpatients are attended to. Most of the patients visiting the facility are people who may not have been satisfied with services they received elsewhere.

The facility does not accept National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) but offers relatively affordable services. For instance, the hospital charges Sh10,000 for a Caesarean Section.

“We keep charges affordable to most people. Our joy is in preserving the dignity and financial stability of the families we serve.”  Efforts by Dr Fryda to challenge the decision by Judge Munyao did not bear fruit.

In September 2020, Court of Appeal judges dealt a blow to Dr Fryda when they ruled that the property be transferred to St Mary’s Mission Hospital, Nairobi. Dr Fryda and the nuns were to oversee the transfer of the property.

“That the appellant (Fryda), the first respondent (ASN) and the second respondent (St. Mary’s Mission Hospital Nairobi) jointly oversee the handover of the hospitals from the first respondent to the second respondent and ensure that the second respondent is fully vested with the ownership and management of the properties and the hospitals thereon,” read the judgment by Judges Asike Makhandia, Kathurima M’inoti and Agnes Murgor.

The Court of Appeal judges said the company was envisioned as the body that would eventually endow, maintain and manage the hospitals.

They, however, noted that the company subscribers and directors are members of ASN.

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