How greed, power games nearly killed hospital’s dream

The need to serve the less privileged in the society brought them together sometimes in 1997.

They held several meetings and finally the idea of starting a hospital was birthed. All seemed well until a few years later when a big fight ensued and not even the Catholic Church, where both parties belong to, could resolve the dispute. In the end, the court was called to intervene.

The need to establish the hospital was initiated by Father William Charles Fryda, a medical doctor together with Sister Maria Felix Mwikali, the Superior at Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN) as well as Sister Marie Therese Gacambi, among others.

Although the founders were Catholics, they belonged to different congregations within the church. At first, their plan was to take over the management of Nazareth Hospital from Consolata Sisters, but they resolved to start a new hospital, just a few metres away.

Later, St Mary’s Hospital in Lang’ata and Elementaita in Nakuru County plus an undeveloped land in Sagana, Nyeri County later turned into a full-blown war among the friends turned foes.

In fact, Father William Charles Fryda was hauled to court in 2018 and charged with three counts of forgery, uttering false documents and conspiracy to defraud.

The priest, a medical director and chief of medical staff at the hospital gave a good fight but in the end, lost the control to a company they had planned to establish decades ago, to run the hospitals.

“From the evidence on record it cannot be disputed that at the beginning of 1997 or thereabouts, the appellant (Fr Fryda) and Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN) fully trusted each other. Their relationship was founded on a common purpose of establishing a hospital that would provide affordable, efficient and quality healthcare services for the less privileged members of our society,” the Court of Appeal noted in a recent ruling.

The court, however, failed to rule in favour of Fr Fryda, who viciously sought to wrestle the control of St Mary’s Hospital from ASN.

The judges directed that the two hospitals, estimated to be worth Sh3 billion be transferred to St Mary’s Mission Hospital Nairobi, a limited liability company, to run them.

The directors of the company, incidentally are members of ASN.

The bench of three judges directed Fr Fryda together with the sisters to ensure that the properties are transferred from ASN to the company.

“The appellant (Fr Fryda) in his testimony stated that the hospitals’ services were cheaper than the government facilities because it charges minimal fee. The hospitals now run themselves without any donations from anyone. It is obvious that they are not a charity,” Justices Asike Makhandia, Kathurima M’Inoti and Agnes Murgor said.

The court noted that Fr Fryda contributed heavily towards the acquisition and construction of the two hospitals. Court records showed that Fr Fryda purchased 10 acres of the land in Lang’ata for the establishment of the hospital while the nuns contributed one acre. The Nakuru land was a gift from a friend.

Whatever caused the big fallout still remains a mystery, but what is clear is that the vision to make St Mary’s a top class hospital fell into shambles after a hostile takeover a few years ago. Doctors were fired and support staff denied salary for several months, as each party fought to control the hospitals.

“They both seem to have had a proper and mutual understanding of the vision that brought them together. Until now, it remains unclear what caused the misunderstanding that led to this dispute,” the judges noted.

The two hospitals were established to provide competent and affordable medical care for the indigent and less privileged in our society.

Dr Fryda told the court that he purchased the land where St Mary’s Lang’ata stands for Sh38 million. To run the hospital, he wanted a body corporate registered in whose name these properties were to be transferred and registered.

He therefore paid for the incorporation and registration of St Mary’s Mission Hospital Nairobi as a limited liability company.

And since the company was yet to be registered when he purchased the property, he agreed with ASN that the title be registered in their name with the understanding that the sisters would later transfer the property to the company.

He told the court that he commenced development of the property with his own money, and some he had solicited from friends and donors. In total he spent about Sh553 million on the project.

Later on, he got the Elementaita land from a friend, Mr Joseph Ngera and put up St Mary’s Mission Hospital Rift Valley at about Sh365 million.

He pleaded further with donors and purchased the Sagana property at Sh4.8 million. While waiting for ASN to transfer these parcels of land as they had previously agreed, he ran the hospitals.

But soon after a change of leadership in the ASN in 2009, the new entrants, he said, started to claim that they owned all the parcels of land and the developments.

When he testified in support of the priest, Mr Ngera said he owned some 90-acre parcel of land in Elementaita. He said in the early 1980s, he thought of giving back to the society and wished to have a hospital built for the community either on this land or on another that he owned in Njoro. He then offered 58 acres of his Elementaita land to Fr Fryda.

After the change of guard, Fr Fryda said the sisters started interfering with the running of the hospitals by imposing some employees and allocating them duties without consulting him or the management.

The priest said he frowned on the model where nuns ran hospitals, in what he compared to a high school.

On its part, ASN said the setting up of the hospitals was as a result of a collaborative meeting between ASN and Maryknoll- where Fr Fryda belonged, and it was agreed that ASN would be the legal owner of the hospitals and would be responsible for their management.

According to the sisters, Fr Fryda raised the money for the establishment of the hospitals after getting a letter from Nairobi Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a Nzeki in February 1993. The letter, Sr Gacambi said, was addressed to the Maryknoll Mission Project Funding Committee and Maryknoll Regional Council.

The court heard that it was on this basis that the properties were registered in the name of the sisters adding that the funds for the purchase of the properties were provided by donors through correspondence initiated by them.

They contended further that although Fr Fryda greatly involved in the running and management of the hospitals, this was only achieved as a result of the goodwill that previously existed between them.

The sisters accused him of unwilling to accept the position that they owned the hospitals and wants to forcefully be involved in the management, despite the strained relationship.

The court ruled that the hospitals were funded mostly from donations and its conceptualisation was a joint effort between the parties and none of them could fully claim them. They ruled that the hospitals should best be managed by the company, because that was the intention from the start.

Third party

“There is uncontroverted evidence that the Elementaita property was a donation by Mr Joseph Boro Ngera in 2005 to the appellant who in turn gifted it to and had it registered under ASN. Once the appellant donated the property to ASN he cannot turn around and claim it back. In any event, as it was a donation, the appellant cannot claim to have spent his own money in its acquisition.”

The judges, however directed Regina Pacis University College, a constituent college of Catholic University, which laid claim over the hospitals, to move out saying the establishment of a university was not the intention of the founders.

“That the user of the properties other than that of providing health services to the poor or such other auxiliary purposes is null and void and ASN is hereby directed to embark on a relocation or discontinuation programme of any such purposes, especially by the 3rd respondent (the college),” the judges said.

Undeterred, Fr Fryda later moved back to Elementaita and established St Joseph’s Hospital, a stone throw away from St Mary’s.

Kenyans and the benefactors of both parties will in years to come, judge which among the two hospitals, incidentally named after the parents of Christ in the Bible, lived up to its dream.

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