Apostle of hospice & palliative movement

Shri Joseph Pulikunnel, who passed away on December 28th, 2017, is widely known as a Christian reformer and a consistent critic of the Catholic Church. Largely unknown is his pioneering works in the hospice and palliative movement in Kerala. A luminary in the field of social reform he had all hues and shades to his character and personality. Interestingly as with all great leaders in society, he had a mission and a vision to accomplish it. 

He was a man whose thinking was always way ahead of his times and he had an uncanny ability to sense the needs of others and huge energy to work towards his goals. He was able to motivate and organize an army of like-minded individuals and teams to work with him towards a shared goal.

A little known fact is that Shri Joseph Pulikunnel along with Dr. C.P. Mathew started the Good Samaritan Cancer Care Home at Kudayampady near Kottayam Medical College in 1983. This 10 bedded institution was the first hospice to function in Kerala, which was till then a concept here and existed in a few western countries. Shri Joseph Pulikunnel along with Dr. C.P. Mathew was the pioneer of the modalities of the hospice movement in India. 

In 1993 this Cancer Care Home was relocated to Idamattam and converted to a 100-bed hospital (with assistance from Word & Deed, an NGO based in Holland). This hospital catered to the special needs of cancer patients with an emphasis on the holistic care of patients and their families and bystanders. 

Shri. Joseph Pulikunnel was a person with a purpose and a sense of perfection was inherent in all his actions. In 1995, Shri Joseph Pulikunnel invited the greatest leaders of our time in palliative care namely Padmashri Dr. M. R. Rajagopal; (Father of palliative care in India), Dr. Twycross (UK), and Mrs. Gilly Burn (the doyen of palliative nursing in Australia) to a workshop at Hosanna Mount, Idamattam. The workshop was to create awareness about palliative care among medical professionals and the public alike. The idea of hospice care was planted at that time. Shri Joseph Pulikunnel proved to be a genius when he coined the popular Malayalam term, “Saanthwanam” for palliative care.

The Diabetic Centre

In the 1980s many juvenile diabetic cases (especially girls) from poorer families were often neglected or died prematurely for lack of nourishment and medicine. This center proved to be a safe haven for these children. They were cared for, medically supervised, and rehabilitated so that they could rejoin mainstream society. A poultry farm, a tailoring unit, gardening unit, etc also functioned here. 

The Hospital

This hospital had all basic amenities including an X-ray unit and ECG machine and enough medical and nursing staff. The hospital, which catered to the necessities of a large population in the area, provided standard medical treatment free of cost to all. 

Nursing School

Years ago when nursing schools were few, a Nursing School was established attached to the hospital. Many young girls from the surrounding neighborhood, who were trained and worked here, are currently working at several hospitals abroad.

Hosanna Hospice 

This 10-bedded facility provides holistic care to patients and even all forms of treatment including ‘Ayurveda’ are provided to terminally ill patients, after consulting with the family. The Hospice also provides free medicine and home care to cancer and palliative patients who reside in the locality.

An astute businessman too, his mind was focused on the overall development of the campus, and its financial sustainability was a serious issue. If the services were to be continued free then avenues of revenue generation had to be considered. Various methods of revenue generation including donations rentals and other activities were created. 

Shri. Joseph Pulikunnel’s multifaceted personality and his attributes including strong leadership absolute self-confidence, punctuality, and daring nature earned him the respect and friendship of all. Started his career as a Professor, the compassion and kindness he showed to all in distress, deserves special mention. 

He was a traditional patriarch in many ways. He was fondly addressed “Appachan”, by his loving children as well as all around him. Though he was a taskmaster he had an ear to listen to others’ problems and help them to solve it

However, he was more spiritual than religious. His decision to cremate his wife’s and his dead bodies stemmed from his passion for safe environmental practices. 

For almost four decades the Hosanna Mount has stood tall in the area of Kottayam doing commendable work in palliative care. Let me proudly mention that we are one among the very few Institutions that are permitted to dispense analgesic opioid morphine. 

It has been my privilege to work at this institution for nearly two decades. It is also my hope that the good work being done in this institution continues to make meaningful improvements in the lives of the patients for many more years to come. 


Written by, Dr. Geetha Vijayan, Palliative Physician, General Hospital Ernakulum and Hosanah Hospice Edamattom