In 1861, when Doctor Kaloost Vartan arrived in Nazareth, average life expectancy was 22 years for males, and 24 years for females. The dispensary he set up was the only 'hospital' between Jersualem, Damascus and Beirut.
The first floor of the house he rented housed the dispensary, with a separate room for four beds. Patients came from Nazareth and the surrounding countryside for medical care. In addition, hospital staff ran clinics in the villages neighboring Nazareth.
In 1866 Dr. Vartan’s work in Nazareth was officially supported by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS), a Scottish organization that trained medical personnel to serve in needy areas, established medical facilities, and provided funds for their work. The clinic increased in size to accommodate eight beds and some time later, two adjoining houses were rented and more beds were added. At its peak, the hospital there had 40 beds.
In1906 a site was purchased on a hill west of the city for the building of a new hospital. Dr. Vartan died in 1908, before building began, but in 1912, the first building was completed, under the Hospital's new administrator, Dr. Frederick Scrimgeour. There Dr. Scrimgeour served, along with nurses Edith Johncock and Jessica Croft.
In the next few years, other buildings were added. But World War I brought confusion, when the hospital buildings were confiscated for use as a military hospital and officers’ barracks under the Ottoman government. After the war, the site was returned to EMMS and extensive building and renovations took place
In 1921 Dr. William Bathgate arrived in Nazareth and took over the administration of the Hospital. Together with his niece, Dr. Doris Wilson, Dr. Bathgate attended to the medical needs of the hospital, in addition to the administration. He oversaw continued repair to the buildings and the construction of new buildings to accommodate new services and the increasing patient load. In 1935 the hospital welcomed the arrival of electricity, and the installation of its first x-ray machine. Also during this time a school of nursing was established to train staff for work in the hospital. (See School of Nursing for more information.)
World War II and the founding of the state of Israel brought added challenges. The number of staff was low: two foreign doctors provided care, along with nurses and local employees. Resources were scant and the number of patients was high, including the 20,000 Palestinian refugees who had left the surrounding villages in 1948 to find security in Nazareth.
In 1952 Dr. John Tester joined the staff, followed several years later by others. He became administrator in 1956. Under his tenure, the hospital developed specialized work in departments, upgraded services, and built various buildings.
Dr. Hans Bernath came to Nazareth in 1956, and worked as a surgeon. In 1969 he became administrator of the hospital. He supervised numerous improvements including new maternity facilities, a new kitchen, the addition of dialysis and physiotherapy services and the hiring of specialized staff. Dr. Bernath inspired local and international donors to contribute towards the further development of the hospital.
Dr. Bob Martin succeeded him in 1988 and saw the implementation of the National Health Insurance Law, which took effect January 1, 1995. This law restructured health care in Israel and guaranteed basic health care for all residents of Israel. Mr. G. Anthony Holt served as interim general administrator for almost two years. He was followed by Mr. Derek Thomson, a professional hospital administrator from the United Kingdom, who played a key role in securing the future of the Hospital as a full part of the Israeli Healthcare System.
In 2001, the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS) was split into two separate organisations - EMMS Nazareth and EMMS International. In addition to running the hospital, Derek Thomson served as the first CEO of EMMS Nazareth until his retirement in 2007.
In that year, Mr. Elia Abdo became General Director of the Nazareth Hospital, and Mr. Joseph Main was appointed as CEO of EMMS Nazareth.
In March 2009, the Directors chose 'The Nazareth Trust' as the new operating name of EMMS Nazareth. This new operating name reflects our responsibility as heirs to almost 150 years of faithful service, and underpins the vision to develop our services so they continue to make a major difference in the region for another 150 years.
Behind the work of the foreign staff lie the contributions of many dedicated local staff who served over the years in many capacities throughout the hospital. "Old-timers" have many stories to tell and fond memories of life in the hospital community. In the early days, the medical and nursing staff were exclusively from overseas, but over the years these responsibilities have been assumed by local staff. Today the Nazareth Hospital employs approximately 400 local people, who are joined by a small number of foreign staff and volunteers who have came from abroad to help with the work.
The hospital buildings reflect the many changes that have occurred in Nazareth, from the early days of four beds in a rented house to 146 beds in large hospital buildings. Building, renovations, and improvements are always going on, as the needs of the Nazareth community change and increase. Over the years new buildings were built and new services added because of generous contributions from local and international friends who believed in the efforts of the Nazareth Hospital.