Recent Interview With The Local Press

Recently, an interview with a local press establishment took place to publicise the views and work of the charity.  Detailed below are the questions and answers as provided by our Chairman Peter Tolson.

Q       When did you first find out about the hospital?

I first found out about the hospital around 1993. I was working as a training manager at AWE where we used to employ experts in various subjects to train the workforce. I employed George Stephens a lay preacher for a series of lectures. During lunch one day, he happened to mention that he was looking for care staff to work in Romania. Knowing my wife had talked about aid work, I mentioned that Vanessa might be interested and had the right qualifications necessary. 

Vanessa travelled out that year, and I followed on a year later as an engineer.

George Stephens had travelled to Romania with the World Health Organisation at the fall of Caucescou. They were taken to the village as being the poorest in Romania.

When he returned the following year, he was sent to another area. He thought that this was self-defeating, as all the good work done in the previous year would run to neglect.

From here, the NNRT was born, and we have been supporting the same village ever since.

Q       How would you describe the hospital?

            The hospital can be likened to an old neglected Victorian type institution. It is cold, stark and foreboding. When we arrived there were no proper toilet facilities and little bathing opportunity. There was no hot water and poor lighting throughout the building. The building was damp and draughty. It was very much like horror movie depiction of asylums for the insane.

 Q       What are the staffing levels like? Are staff trained in a similar way to those in the west?

            Staffing levels of late have been improved dramatically. In the past, staff did not want to work at Vulcan because of the poor state of the facility, and the poor funding levels. We were told that the improved staffing levels were directly attributable to the improvements the charity has made over the years and the levels of support we give. Psychiatric staff in Romania are given a basic nursing training, and only after qualifying do they specialise in psychiatric care. The levels of training vary from competent right down to “possibly better than nothing”. Some staff really do care, but others do not. In past years, staffing levels were so low that the hospital was locked down for a 2 hour period leaving the gate warden as the only staff in residence before a couple of night staff came on duty. This has now changed.

 Q       What medical treatment do the patients receive?

            Patients receive the most rudimentary medical care. Because of the scarcity of drugs, dosage levels are not in line with current UK policy. Drugs are expensive, and they cannot afford to pay for them.

At present, a doctor, whether it is GP or psychiatrist visits for a few hours a week. Previously they had a full time GP at the hospital, but she left and was not replaced. We have installed a dentist facility at the hospital, and pay a local dentist to come in periodically to treat the patient’s teeth. Because of their high starch diet, the state of the patient’s teeth is bad. Preventative medicine is not effective as toothpaste costs money, which the hospital doesn’t have.

 Q       How many patients are in the hospital and what are their long-term prospects?

            There are around 150 patients at the hospital. The numbers of patients fluctuate, but the bed numbers stay constant. We have had instances where 2 or 3 patients share a bed. These days this doesn’t happen.

Long term, these patients are generally there for the length of their lives. They are generally chronic cases with little hope of a cure. More recently we have found that the less severe cases have been discharged into the community due to lack of funding of the hospital. These patients are by no means cured. They are just regarded as being non-dangerous to the community and have to survive by relying on relatives.

 Q       What real differences have the charity made?

            We can only judge what are real differences by what we see and what we are told. When we first came to the hospital, there were no smiling faces. Patients had no real clothing or footwear. Most stayed in bed all day and were generally sedated to keep them quiet. The patients were scared of the villagers and the villagers were scared of the patients. Many confrontations between the two groups were witnessed.

Nowadays, patients do smile; most do have access to some reasonable clothing and footwear. The villagers and the patients do mix to a certain extent. The patient’s reaction to the charity speaks volumes. When we arrive to work, we are greeted with hugs and kisses. They know that for a time at least, they will get some loving care and attention.

The physical changes we have made are enormous. We have installed showers and toilets. We have repaired main drains. We have installed a boiler for heating. We are rewiring the whole hospital. The list goes on and grows larger each year.  We have renovated the cooking area, made shelters in the grounds. These levels of improvements are only made possible by the support of the caring public who donate time and money to these poor unfortunate people.

 Q       If the charity ceased working at the hospital today, what difference would it make?

            If the charity ceased working at the hospital, the institution would continue. It would however revert to subsistence levels. Most of our installations would fall into disrepair sooner or later. The dentist facility would cease immediately. Funding for food, heating and maintenance would virtually disappear to mere existence levels. Patients would get no genuine love and care. Although the staff do their best, they just do not have the time to spare. At the end of the day, it is just a job to them. Yes, the hospital would survive, but at what cost to human suffering.

 Q       How does the Romanian health service work?

            The Romanian health service in theory works just the way it does in the UK. There is free health care for all. In practice, it is not so simple. The state of the Romanian economy means that everybody is looking for ways to cut costs. This is generally achieved by having staff that are low paid, and equipment levels which does not take into account of new technology. Equipment and buildings are old, and very few hospitals can boast life support machinery. Care is generally as good as they can give within the budget available to them. Many people state that when they visit the doctors, they have to have someone open the door for them because their arms are being used to carry gifts for the doctors and staff. It is the only way people know how to get the best care they can. The knowledge is there, but it is of little use if they don’t have the tools to follow the knowledge through.

 Q       What effect does the country’s financial situation have on the hospital, and the village of Mina-1-Mai?      

      The effect of the poor economy on the hospital is that they are relying to a large extent on the generosity of foreign gifts from charities such as ours. Because Romania is no longer in the headlines, the number of charitable institutions has dramatically dropped as has the levels of gift aid. One comment heard from the village recently is “that we would be better off having a war, at least we would get some foreign aid!”

The village is equally poor. People live in the poorest quality housing and eat the cheapest food they can find. Unemployment is rife, and unemployment benefit is not nearly enough to live on.

Q     How would you describe the village itself?

            The village of Mina-1-Mai can be likened to what I imagine life to be like over a 100 years ago in England. There are no roads, and people live in ramshackle houses, which quite frankly we would condemn. From the outside, the village is very picturesque, nestled in the valley between high peaks. The surrounding countryside is covered with forest. In summer, it is extremely hot and humid, and in winter there is always deep snow and extremely low temperatures. There is water and electricity in the village but no gas. Supplies of both these utilities are unreliable at the best of times. Both water and electricity tend to stop frequently due to break down.

 Q     What is the historical background of the hospital?

            The name Mina-1-Mai means Mine of the 1st of May, which is the national day of the miner. The village is a coal mining community. When the mine closed down in the sixties the villagers had to learn to live off the land.

The buildings left by the mine were taken over by the government and converted. The mine canteen into a school, and the mine offices into the Hospital. The building is by no means ideal for the purpose, but in Romania, nothing goes to waste.

 Q     What are the charity’s long-term objectives?

            The charity has many long term objectives. These do tend to change slightly as priorities alter.

Our main aim is to continue to provide long-term support and care to the hospital inmates who are indeed our brothers and sisters. We intend to continue the renovations for as long as our finances allow with the ultimate aim of producing a facility comparable to the UK. We aim to continue to support the village and the school for as long as we are needed, or as long as the charity exists.

 Q     What motivates the team’s volunteers?

            In a word, “love”. Love of the country, which for reasons, which are no fault of the people, has fallen on hard times. Love of the people, who would literally share with you their last crust of bread. Love of the hospital patients, who trust us unconditionally, and return our love with interest, year after year.

 Q     With images of suffering on our TV screens every day, how can you justify the effort spent in a single village in Romania?

            With the best will in the world, we are unable to solve all the worlds’ problems. People tend to lend support to the area of tragedy that is in the limelight. When interest moves on, what happens to those places? Sometimes they survive to go on to great things. Generally it doesn’t happen like that. When the support ceases, the improved standards start to decline, gradually at first following an accelerated curve. Our charity asked the question. If this is likely to happen, why did we prolong the agony only to end up as bad as we started.

By returning to the same spot each year, we build up the trust of the people that we will not abandon them. Another effect is that they will take more care of the improvements knowing that we will not do it again if it is destroyed. Romania is as poor today as it was 10 years ago. The problem as we see it is that pride will not allow them to declare this fact.

 Q     Is Romania no longer ‘fashionable’ as a focus of charity work?

            Romania is definitely not fashionable any more. The most that the average citizens see of Romania is when we see images of illegal immigrants trying to get into the UK. These images have done more to harm our efforts than any incident that has happened during our existence. Quite frankly, this is not what the average Romanian is like. They are a fiercely proud people who are often too embarrassed to ask for help. The fact remains that there are still people dying on the streets from starvation. There are still children packed in orphanages because nobody wants them. Children are still living on the streets begging because they have nothing. People are still dying in hospitals because they lack the funds or equipment to save them.

If you asked me if this was fashionable, then I would say no. If you asked, do they still need our help? Then the answer is a definite yes!

 Q     Would the hospital be different if charities had never visited, and are there any other undiscovered institutions in Romania?

            This is a difficult question. Logic tells me that things would be entirely different if no charities ever visited. It would be a physical impossibility for the government to provide the level of funding to achieve the levels they are today. Without a doubt, many more people would have died and staff motivation would have been at a very low level. Nobody can say for certain that this is the case, but it is what I truly believe. As for any other undiscovered institutions? The word undiscovered is implying that nobody knows they exist, so therefore they cannot exist under these terms. We only know what the authorities want us to know. The Romanian people are generally embarrassed about their existence, but have no other option, so under these conditions it may be possible. People only realise how bad things are when they see something better.

 Q            Former Eastern Bloc countries are striving to become part of the European union. If Romania joins, will it have any bearing on the state of the hospital?

            I really do believe that joining the European union would be the making of the country. As the borders open up, so would the influx of wealth and talent from around Europe. This is the one scenario when I can foresee that the charity will cease to function. Even so, Romania will still find things hard. They have many years of catching up to do. They will have new talents to learn and customs to get used to. It will not be an instant fix, but I can only see good things coming from this move in the long term for the hospital and the country.