As you drive along the coastal road, Jalan Persiaran Abu Bakar Sultan, from downtown Johor Bahru (JB) heading towards the ward of Tampoi, you will pass by the Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and the Iskandar Islamic Complex before coming across a red-brick complex of buildings.
For us JB-ians who are born and bred in this fine city of ours, that red-brick complex of buildings facing the body of water, the Straits of Tebrau, can be no other but the Sultanah Aminah Hospital.
Named after the consort of HRH AlMarhum Sultan Ismail ibni AlMarhum Sultan Ibrahim, HRH Sultanah Ungku Tun Aminah and commonly referred to HSA (now that we have another hospital in the city that is the Hospital Sultan Ismail (HSI)), it is a hospital with a character and a distinct identity of its own as well as an interesting place in Johor and Malaysian history especially when the construction of the HSA was completed in 1941.
Most if not all of us JB-ians have at one time or another pass through the corridors of the HSA, for one reason or another. Many have checked in and many have checked out (me included) with some checking in again in later years.
But of course, as it is with hospitals, it is not complete without its share of heart-breaking scenes over the years especially scenes of family members reacting to news of loved ones lost, expectedly and unexpectedly.
But as it is in life, for every moment of loss and sorrow, there are also moments of great joy when the first cries of babies being brought into this world filled the corridors or of the prayers giving thanks for the successful medical procedures done on their loved ones.
This red-bricked hospital that is the Sultanah Hospital was not red-bricked originally. The earliest recording of a hospital building in Johor Bahru was in 1882 and comprised of several wooden buildings which made up the 3rd class wards. It was found to be insufficient that plans to build a new hospital were made.
Construction of a new hospital began in 1938 and was finally completed in 1941. The new building was designed by the architectural firm “Palmer & Turner”, the very firm that designed the Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim at Bulit Timbalan.
The design was based on a hospital located in Nanking, China based on an idea conceived by a Dr GH Garlick whilst attending a meeting of the “Far Eastern Association of Tropical Medicine” in 1934. The interior arrangements though were based on local expertise as well as studies made of hospitals from the “Nosokomeion” journal.
When the hospital was completed, it was scheduled to be opened by the then Sultan of Johor, HRH Sultan Sir Ibrahim ibni AlMarhum Sultan Sir Abu Bakar. The date of the opening ceremony was slated for the 29th of May, 1941. However, the breakout of World War II (WWII) in the then Malaya however put paid to that and the ceremony was cancelled.
Today the hospital is described as a multi-specialty hospital and funded by the Federal Government of Malaysia. It is easily the biggest hospital in Johor, with its Emergency and Trauma, Outpatient, Dentistry departments, to name but a few. It is also the main referral and tertiary health centre for the state and is one of the busiest hospitals in Malaysia based on patient load.
In 1968, the first public sector intensive care unit (ICU) in Malaysia was established at HSA (it was still known as the Johor Bahru General Hospital then) under the stewardship of the state Anaesthesiologist (Dato’) Dr T. Sachithanandan, and was officially declared open on 3rd February 1969 by HRH Sultan Ismail ibni AlMarhum Sultan Ibrahim.
What was interesting was that the funding to build the ICU was an early example of the cooperation in healthcare between the Federal Government’s Ministry of Health (MOH), the Johor state government and the public (via the Johor Bahru Junior Chamber International (JCI-Jaycees) fund-raising activities).
In addition, the HSA’s ICU unit became the model upon which subsequent ICU facilities were designed and built-in numerous other MOH’s state general hospitals nationwide.
There are many notable milestones that the HSA as achieved eg the first postgraduate medical center in Malaysia was also established at HSA in 1969 by three medical pioneers – Dato’ Dr. Lim Kee Jin (a physician), Dato’ Dr. T. Sachithanandan (an anaesthetist) and Datuk Dr. Sam C. E. Abraham (a paediatrician).
For history buffs, it is interesting to note that there are two plaques placed on the walls of the main entrance of the hospital. The plaques list the names of the medical and auxiliary staff of the hospital who died during WWII.
It is quote sobering to note that in times of war, no one is exempted from the ravages of war. Even they who dispense medical assistance. Quite a sobering thought that.
Under normal circumstances, a hospital is not your typical historical landmark or even worth a jot on a tourist’s “To Visit” list. But the HSA is no ordinary hospital with more additions and/or improvements are planned for the hospital.
Nevertheless, the time may come when a third or even a fourth Government-funded hospital may be required to meet the every growing demands of the people of Johor Bahru.
But no matter how many Government hospitals they may be in Johor Bahru, the red-bricked HSA will truly stand out not only for its red-brick facade but also as the first of its kind, not only in Johor but in the country as well.
Date : 23 May 2013