As virus cases surge, nurses threaten general strike over strain, lack of staff
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As virus cases surge, nurses threaten general strike over strain, lack of staff

More than 750 nurses in quarantine; need for personnel is rising as coronavirus wards reopen in pandemic’s second wave

Nurses at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, February 19, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nurses at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, February 19, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nurses threatened to go on strike Monday over manpower shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, which they say have made it impossible to continue their work.

According to the Ynet website, 759 nurses have been put in quarantine even as hospitals across the country are reopening coronavirus wards without adding additional nursing staff.

“The nurses are collapsing,” National Association of Nurses chairwoman Ilana Cohen wrote in a letter to Finance Minister Israel Katz, in which she demanded a meeting so that the two could work to head off an escalation of the current labor dispute.

“It is no longer possible [to continue]. The system is down, period,” she asserted. “What we need at the moment is manpower.”

Ilana Cohen, chairwoman of the National Association of Nurses, with hundreds of nurses from all over Israel during a protest in Jerusalem, December 17, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ilana Cohen, chairwoman of the National Association of Nurses, with hundreds of nurses from all over Israel during a protest in Jerusalem, December 17, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

She further charged patients and nurses had been “abandoned” and that the health system was “drying up.”

She complained that hospitals had purchased respirators without providing additional training, had not increased staffing numbers to a level appropriate to the new circumstances, “and opened coronavirus wards without adding personnel.”

All these, she said, made a strike a “viable option.”

The association declared a labor dispute last month, stating that nurses’s heavy workload damaged their ability to provide proper care to their patients.

There was a shortfall of hundreds or as much as a thousands staffers, Sheba Medical Center Deputy Director Prof. Arnon Afek told Ynet. “There is a great shortage in the number of nurses compared to the number of beds we operate within hospitals.”

Nurses protest against their work conditions outside the Ministry of Health in Jeursalem July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last July, nurses across Israel went on strike after negotiations between the National Nurses Union and the Health Ministry broke down. The nurses were protesting what they said were poor working conditions, heavy caseloads and low standards of care.

Nurses aren’t the only ones who are overworked. In January, a medical resident at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center committed suicide, making him the fourth doctor there to take his own life in a year and a half.

The resident’s death prompted the hospital’s administration to call for an emergency meeting to deal with the issue, which came as medical staff complained of long hours and unacceptable working conditions.

Coronavirus testing labs also appear to be operating at their limits, with several local HMOs warning that they were “working way beyond our capabilities,” Ynet reported.

According to the news site, the HMOs have said that unless the number of daily tests was lowered, they would have to begin throwing out testing kits without processing them.

Last Monday, the social workers’ union initiated a general strike after repeated negotiations with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions.

“We are being attacked with violence and cruelty,” the Walla News site quoted Israel Union of Social Workers chief Inbal Hermoni as saying last week, lamenting her colleagues’ “shameful salaries” and “unreasonable burden.”

The “entire system has been neglected, dried up and abandoned,” she continued, adding that “finance officials want to break social services and shut them down” and that there had been “no choice” but to go on strike.

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