As nursing homes become virus hotspots, government turns to military for help

Beersheba assisted living facility has seen six deaths, four recorded in Jerusalem home; outbreaks also occur in Holon and Nahariya

Illustrative: A nursing home for the elderly in Jerusalem, April 15, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90)
Illustrative: A nursing home for the elderly in Jerusalem, April 15, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90)

The novel coronavirus is spreading quickly in nursing homes around the country, raising intense concern for the safety of elderly residents and prompting the government to divert military resources to help contain the spread.

“The Defense Ministry and Home Front Command were assigned to assist the Health Ministry with operational aspects of nursing homes,” the Prime Minister’s Office announced Sunday in a statement.

The Kan public broadcaster reported the Home Front Command is opposed to the move, but Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has sought a larger role for the military in managing the nation’s response to the virus crisis.

Israel’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 46 on Sunday morning with the passing of an 84-year-old woman from the Mishan nursing home in Beersheba, the sixth fatality from the assisted living facility.

IDF soldiers deliver food to an elderly Israeli man as part of a military effort to assist the country’s at-risk population during the coronavirus outbreak on April 2, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

A separate nursing home run by the Mishan group in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon has had four positive tests for the coronavirus — two residents and two staff members — but the site has no isolation policy or testing being done, the Ynet news site reported on Saturday.

The Holon facility is large, with 500 residents.

“When we asked why our parents aren’t in isolation, they said that kind of instruction has to come from the Health Ministry, and they can’t make a decision like that themselves,” a daughter of one resident told the site.

The facility has been isolated from the outside world, however.

“We’re not allowed in,” said the daughter. “We wish they’d isolate them and take care of them. They’re still eating in a shared cafeteria and meeting one another. We’re afraid it’s going to end up like Beersheba,” she said, referring to the Mishan facility in the southern city.

Mishan said on Friday it had asked the Magen David Adom rescue service to test all residents at its Holon home. It said the site was “completely isolated from the outside for two weeks now, with exceptions made for assistance staff.” It said it would begin isolating all residents from one another.

The Mishan assisted living facility in Beersheba (Screen grab/Channel 13 news)

Meanwhile, a nurse in the Freemasons Nursing Home in the northern town of Nahariya was diagnosed with the virus on Saturday — the eighth person at the home and the third staff member to test positive.

The infected residents are between the ages of 75 and 97, a range at which the virus is extremely dangerous, with an estimated 20 percent chance of death.

A possible ninth infected resident, a 91-year-old hospitalized at the city’s Galil Hospital, is in serious condition, with pneumonia and breathing difficulty. Hospital staff are awaiting his test results.

The nursing home is small, with just 32 residents.

The home’s founder, Jocelyn Sayag, criticized the government for failing to send help and protective gear. Only one on-duty nurse is serving the residents around the clock, she said, instead of the five who usually split the work between then.

In this April 2, 2020 photo, a member of the Hevra Kadisha, an organization which prepares bodies of deceased Jews for burial according to Jewish tradition, pushes a body during a funeral of a Jewish man who died from coronavirus in the coastal city of Ashkelon, Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“The workload is inhuman. We’re working without staff, on the front lines. Why doesn’t the state send us soldiers, at least someone who can sit on every floor and ensure the residents are staying isolated?” she asked.

“A nursing home is like a hospital, it’s a sensitive place. If they’d taken this seriously, there would have been tests for the doctors, the nurses and the caregivers in the hospitals, in the old age homes and in other medical facilities. We would have known about the sick sooner.”

The Nofim Tower assisted living center in Jerusalem has also been hard hit by the virus outbreak, with four fatalities from the facility.

With the death toll from residents at the Mishan facility in Beersheba continuing to rise, relatives of the residents say they are planning to file a lawsuit against the facility’s managers and the Health Ministry for alleged medical malpractice.

“The Health Ministry as a regulator has not supervised and kept watch. They saved money instead of caring for the elderly,” a representative of residents’ families told the Kan public broadcaster Sunday morning.

Relatives of residents of the Mishan assisted living facility in Beersheba protest on March 29, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

In total, there have been at least 42 cases of the virus among residents and staff members of the Beersheba facility.

In the suit, the relatives will allege that the facility’s residents were neglected, causing them to be infected by the virus, and that medical staff and Health Ministry officials did not take steps to separate them or check for the coronavirus, Channel 12 reported.

The families also claim that some residents’ initial complaints of pain and fevers — symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — were not taken seriously and that additional people living at Mishan and staff members were infected because quarantine measures weren’t taken, the network reported.

They also reportedly allege that virus tests weren’t conducted for residents and staff with symptoms of COVID-19.

On Saturday, 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Dr. Nelia Kravitz, 88, who worked as a physician at Soroka Medical Center for 20 years, became the fifth victim from the Mishan facility in Beersheba.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that 8,018 people have been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus in Israel, an increase of 429 from 24 hours earlier. There are 127 people in serious condition and 106 on ventilators, which appears not to be an increase over figures from Saturday evening. A total of 477 people have recovered from the virus.

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