The Brighter Side

Alyn riders keep wheels close to home as rehab hospital renovates for COVID-19

This year’s Wheels of Love fundraising ride takes place worldwide rather than in Israel, still helping kids’ rehab center raise funds

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The Grumpy Roadsters, a group of New York City bike riders doing their Alyn hospital fundraising ride for 2020 in the Berkshires of Massachusetts this year, rather than in Israel (Courtesy Alyn)
The Grumpy Roadsters, a group of New York City bike riders doing their Alyn hospital fundraising ride for 2020 in the Berkshires of Massachusetts this year, rather than in Israel (Courtesy Alyn)

The Alyn Hospital Wheels of Love Ride usually takes place in November, bringing hundreds of riders from around the globe to bike Israeli routes over the course of five days to support the Jerusalem-based rehabilitation center for physically challenged and disabled youth.

This year, however, Alyn riders are biking their miles closer to their hometowns, whether in Key Biscayne, Florida, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, or off-road in Illinois.

Following a virtual opening ceremony on October 25, riders from six countries, including the US, Holland and Israel, gathered to launch their virtual rides that are taking place in small groups, while wearing their Alyn jerseys and posting #MyALYNride pictures on Instagram.

“Our riders were all riding outside their homes for the exercise,” said Tal Naveh, Alyn’s director of logistics. “We figured, let’s utilize that and ask them to ride for us.”

The Friends of Kevin Alyn Wheels of Love riders from Long Island, NY, at the end of their 2020 fundraising ride (Courtesy Alyn)

The hope is that Wheels of Love 2020 will raise $2 million rather than the planned $3 million, prior to the coronavirus.

When news of the virus in Italy began filtering into Israel in February, the children’s rehabilitation center needed to react quickly.

“Almost 1,000 people come and go from this old hospital built in the 1970s,” said Dr. Maurit Beeri, the director of Alyn. “It can get very crowded.”

The hospital cares for 300 kids daily, half of whom are hospitalized and the others who come and go for ambulatory therapy, along with parents, 450 staff members, including nurses, doctors and therapists.

The hospital has long provided therapies for as many children as possible, which can sometimes mean that rooms meant for two end up accommodating three patients, and they generally “use every nook and cranny,” said Beeri. But that had to change in the time of COVID.

“We have a population that we thought was at the highest risk,” said Beeri. “We asked ourselves, ‘Do we have to shut our doors?'”

Deputy directors of Alyn rehabilitation center showing the quickly constructed restricted area built at the start of COVID-19 (Courtesy Alyn)

Within one week, the hospital did some quick renovations, building an entirely new wing to house high-risk patients, which even included reprogramming the elevators, with designated access for the kitchen, laundry, supplies and maintenance staff from the first floor to either section of the hospital.

“We moved patients, built and broke walls in about one week,” said Beeri, with the outcome being the creation of two separate hospitals within the one building.

They stopped taking new patients and sent some kids home. But as the weeks went by, the Alyn staff realized other patients were at risk without their necessary therapies.

So they got creative. They created one space for therapies for anyone who was able to get to the hospital, and offered remote therapies for others, something they’d considered doing for a long time, said Beeri. If someone didn’t have access to a computer, an Alyn staffer called them on the phone and talked them through it.

In the midst of the coronavirus, 85% of the Alyn patients were getting the therapies they needed.

“It may not have been the exact therapy they would be doing in normal times, but no one got left behind,” said Beeri.

Dr. Eliezer Beeri at Alyn Hospital with a child on a respirator (Courtesy Alyn Hospital)

The center is now working to improve the remote therapies, with plans to incorporate more hybrid, adaptable therapeutic plans in the future for patients.

They also realized that the only Alyn patients who were at risk of COVID-19 were those with lung disease. Otherwise, their adolescent patients were like any other children, less in danger of getting sick with the coronavirus, but possibly endangering staff with infection.

The hospital built silos for the teachers in the classrooms, and wrote about their adaptations and changes in a policy paper now used by Israel’s Health Ministry.

“What we did has become the protocol in rehabilitative daycare systems,” said Beeri. Alyn is still taking many cautionary measures, but their afternoon activities and daycare canters have returned to functioning, “because kids can’t wait,” said Beeri.

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