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COVID so rampant that 1 in 10 medical staff at Jerusalem’s Hadassah are home sick

‘It’s not bringing down the hospital to point we can’t function but it does make it very hard,’ says director-general; nationally 7,716 health employees in isolation

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Staff at Hadassah Medical Center on January 18, 2021 (courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)
Staff at Hadassah Medical Center on January 18, 2021 (courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

Almost one in ten staff members at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center are sick with the coronavirus, as hospitals teams across Israel experience strain due to infection of medical professionals.

“It’s not bringing down the hospital to the point we can’t function but it does make it very hard, especially with 90 coronavirus patients and a lot of flu patients,” Prof. Yoram Weiss, director-general of Hadassah’s two Jerusalem hospitals in Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Nationally, across hospital and community clinics, close to 8,900 medical staff are absent from work due to infection or exposure, including 1,209 doctors out of an estimated 30,000 doctors in Israel and 2,540 of the country’s estimated 40,000 nurses.

At Hadassah, out of 5,000 staff, 440 are in isolation, almost all of them due to active coronavirus infections, Weiss said. The remaining workers are taking on extra shifts, but patients still feel the impact of the absences, he reported.

Weiss said: “For the physicians who are at work it puts a huge burden as they are trying to cover all the bases, and the same goes for nurses who are having to put in lot of extra shifts. And it’s made much more complicated by the fact that many others who keep hospitals running are in isolation — administrators, technicians, laboratory workers, and transport services.

“Patients feel this, for example, if they are waiting to be admitted, discharged, or transferred between departments, all of which take longer than normal. The patients can be left with a feeling that the hospital is working in a much more cumbersome way than normal.”

Prof. Yoram Weiss, director-general of Hadassah Medical Center (courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

Currently, the system is managing to maintain normal service but may end up reducing nonessential procedures if staff absences continue to mount, Weiss said, noting: “At this point I think we are able to respond, but if the worst comes to worst we can downsize elective procedures.”

Weiss predicted that the new government policy cutting isolation for infected people from seven days to five days, if they are clear of symptoms, will alleviate some of the staffing pressures, adding he considers the move “completely safe.” For the sake of caution, he said, staff who are in close contact with patients will be tested before returning to their duties.

The fact there is data to back up such a reduction is one of the advantages of Israel finding itself facing high Omicron numbers later than several other countries, which were able to gather the necessary data on which to base a decision. “Israel went into the wave late, and for this reason we can base our expectations on what other countries have done, with some peace of mind,” he said.

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