COVID-19: Saving lives at Protestant Hospital in Naples, Italy

A nurse at the Villa Betania Evangelical Hospital wearing full protective gear to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Photo: Brandmaker
A nurse at the Villa Betania Evangelical Hospital wearing full protective gear to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Photo: Brandmaker

Churches in China, America and Germany offer support and funding to meet short and longer-term challenges

(LWI) - A couple of weeks ago, Cordelia Vitiello recalls, families from Naples were out on the beaches, relaxing and chatting with friends in the warm sunshine. Those memories seem like a lifetime ago now, as Italy remains on lockdown following the highest number of infections and deaths from the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak outside of China, where it began. 

Vitiello, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy, is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council and president of the governing board for the Villa Betania Evangelical Hospital in Naples. The hospital, located in one of the poorest parts of the city, provides specialized services for people of all faiths and none, offering free treatment for immigrants and others who are unable to pay for medical care or counseling.

As the number of corona virus cases in Italy rose during the second week of March, the board took the difficult decision of suspending most services, except for intensive care and maternity units, to free up beds for those needing urgent treatment for virus-related symptoms.

Lack of medical equipment

While the majority of deaths have occurred in northern Italian towns and cities, there is a growing number of infections and fatalities in all areas of the country, including at least 20 COVID-19 cases and one death in Vitiello’s coastal hometown of Torre del Greco. “It is a very difficult situation,” she says, “but we are adapting as best we can and trying to find ways of coping with the crisis.”

Medical and administrative staff at the 158-bed facility are working round-the-clock shifts, but have a critical lack of surgical masks, protective gowns and gloves to treat the rising number of infections. An evangelical church in China, where cases are now decreasing, has been in contact with the hospital and is sending supplies, while a number of Italian factories have switched from normal production lines to the manufacture of essential medical equipment.

Solidarity and human contact

Vitiello is also concerned about the longer-term consequences of the crisis, including financial problems since all regular services and operations have been suspended for the foreseeable future. She and the rest of the board, which includes members of seven Italian Protestant communities, are deeply grateful for emergency funding which has been pledged by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as well as an increase in regular support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg, and the Waldensian Church in Italy.

Following Italian government directives, the Lutheran churches in Italy are not holding any services or other gatherings and all members are observing strict quarantine measures which were imposed nationwide on 9 March. “Pastors and chaplains are circulating daily prayers and online services via various WhatsApp groups,” Vitiello says, "as people do their best to stay in contact and support each other.”

People are understanding that there is much more to life than just working and they are rediscovering the importance of culture, conversation and human contact.
Cordelia Vitiello, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy, is an LWF Council member

Despite the uncertainty, she continues, Italians are finding ways of keeping their spirits up, including organizing daily evening concerts where people gather – at a distance - on the balconies of their apartments to sing favorite songs or read poetry together. “At the end of the crisis, I think we will see new life styles emerging,” Vitiello reflects. “People are understanding that there is much more to life than just working and they are rediscovering the importance of culture, conversation and human contact.”

 

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A member church of the LWF since 1949, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy has 7,000 members.