Government agrees on immediate NIS 275 million to fortify hospitals

With only a third of hospital beds and fewer than half of operating rooms protected against missile attacks, officials begin to address dangers to patients, staff and visitors

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

The Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa was prepared for receiving patients following the outbreak of war, October 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Rambam)
The Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa was prepared for receiving patients following the outbreak of war, October 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Rambam)

The Health Ministry announced on Monday that it has budgeted an additional NIS 200 million ($51.8 million) for the fortification of hospitals against missile and other attacks. This sum will augment the NIS 75 million ($19.5 million) already transferred for this purpose since the outbreak of the war on October 7.

The announcement of the additional funds comes following an agreement made between Health Minister Uriel Busso and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

It became sharply clear during fighting in the last 38 days against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah along the northern border that not enough of Israel’s health facilities are properly protected.

More than half the operating rooms in Israeli hospitals are not fortified against missile attacks, according to a report by the Kan public broadcaster.

As a result, nearly all medical staff must exit such operating rooms and go to safe areas when rocket sirens sound — except during critical lifesaving surgeries.

In addition, only 30-40 percent of hospital beds in Israel are in protected spaces.

Health Minister Uriel Busso when he was Knesset Health Committee chair moderating deliberations over health insurance reform on May 14, 2023. (Noam Moshkovitz/Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

“During the visits I have made to hospitals all around the country, I saw that there is an immediate need for increasing the fortification of all of them,” said Busso in an official statement.

“In this time of escalated warfare, we must provide maximum security to patients, staff, and hospital visitors. I thank the finance minister for understanding how critical this is and for applying himself to this national undertaking,” he said.

The Health Ministry reportedly plans to ultimately provide fortified spaces for 70% of all hospital beds and all beds in dialysis and blood bank centers at a cost of NIS 4.5 billion ($1.2 billion). The goal is for all hospitals and medical facilities to be able to function as “isolated islands” for up to 72 hours without outside help during a war or another emergency.

This is already the case with Israel’s most advanced fortified hospital, Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Its underground parking lot can be changed over to a fully functioning 2,000-bed hospital in just 36 hours. It has 24 operating rooms and all other services and equipment to care for patients, and can operate without outside assistance for three days during conventional or unconventional warfare.

Rambam set its underground hospital up soon after the war began so it would be ready to move the patients and staff when given the command by the Health Ministry.

“We would have to move everyone underground in eight to ten hours,”  Rambam’s general director and CEO, Prof. Michael (Miki) Halberthal, told The Times of Israel last month.

Pediatric intensive care physician Dr. Reut Kassif in the foreground at Sheba Medical Center’s underground hospital, Ramat Gan, October 15, 2023 (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)

Other hospitals throughout the country have some protected areas. They were quickly prepared after the war started, and some patients — including babies, small children, and non-mobile elderly — were moved into them.

The plan agreed upon by the Health Ministry and Finance Ministry and announced Monday will allocate NIS 228 ($59 million) toward emergency preparedness and permanent fortifications to ensure smooth medical care under any circumstances. An additional NIS 47 million ($12 million) will be aimed at providing temporary and immediate solutions until permanent fortifications can be built.

The transferred funds will enable an additional 3,000 hospital beds to be protected in various hospital departments, including operating rooms at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba and the emergency department at Ziv Medical Center in Safed.

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