Pleading for funds, hospitals say they also lack ICU beds

Hospital chiefs warn of shortage of ECMO machines used for critical COVID cases

With number of serious infections climbing, top Health Ministry official also said to acknowledge manpower problems for treating hospitalized coronavirus patients

A nurse monitors an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine connected to a patient in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, May 8, 2020. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
A nurse monitors an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine connected to a patient in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, May 8, 2020. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Hospital chiefs warned Sunday that they are facing a shortage of ECMO machines for treating some critical coronavirus patients, and that the Israeli healthcare system could be “on the way to total failure” if more funds are not allocated immediately.

According to Hebrew media reports, the heads of Israel’s major hospitals made the comments in a meeting with top Health Ministry officials to assess the pressures they are facing as a result of the ongoing fourth coronavirus wave.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines do the work of a person’s heart and lungs in order to allow them to recover from serious respiratory illness. Unlike ventilators that just assist breathing, they provide cardiac and respiratory assistance by oxygenating a patient’s blood outside of the body and are used for only the most critically ill.

Speaking to Channel 12 news Sunday night, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said there were currently 37 patients on ECMO machines nationwide, the highest number seen during the current wave, but still a way off from numbers in the 50s seen earlier this year.

Horowitz additionally said that of those 37 patients, 31 of them were unvaccinated and most were under the age of 60. He said that the high percentage of unvaccinated patients on ventilators or ECMO machines was a clear sign of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Hospitals, however, reported a total of 51 patients currently on ECMO machines, Channel 12 noted.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference, in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ynet reported that the director-general of the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, Prof. Masad Barhum, told Health Ministry officials at Sunday’s meeting that, given the current situation of shortages, medics may need to assess which patients would be given the machines.

“The State of Israel must make a decision on whether to buy more ECMO machines — because there is definitely going to be a need for triage here,” he said.

In addition to a looming ECMO shortage, the machines are not evenly spread out across the country, with larger hospitals tending to have more and some smaller medical centers not having any machines at all.

Illustrative: Hadassah Ein Kerem medical staff work in the coronavirus ward of the hospital in Jerusalem on August 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The hospital chiefs also said they lack enough ICU beds, Channel 12 news reported.

“There’s a problem of manpower,” Nachman Ash, the ministry’s director, was quoted as saying by Army Radio.

The CEO of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Dr. Mickey Halbertl said that the hospital was oversubscribed and close to being unable to take in any more patients, according to Ynet.

“If it were not for the mortality rate, we would be full… This is negligence,” he was quoted as saying.

The warnings came as serious COVID-19 cases have begun rising again, after appearing to plateau earlier this month.

According to Health Ministry statistics released Sunday evening, the number of Israelis hospitalized in serious condition with COVID has risen to its highest level in close to three weeks.

Hadassah Ein Kerem team members wearing safety gear as they work in the hospital’s coronavirus ward, on August 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The latest figures report 719 Israelis in serious condition with COVID-19, compared to 650 on Thursday. In total, there were 79,971 active virus cases in the country, with 1,165 of them hospitalized, including 247 in critical condition and 195 of those on ventilators.

More than 66 percent of all those in serious condition are unvaccinated, and less than 8% of them have received three vaccination doses. Among those under 60 in serious condition, 80% are unvaccinated and less than 4% have received a booster shot.

As of Sunday evening, 3,055,366 people in Israel — 33% of the total population — have received a third booster dose of the vaccine.

Over the weekend, Israel surpassed more than 7,500 dead of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. According to the latest figures, 7,531 Israelis with COVID have died since March 2020, and more than 1,000 have died in the past six weeks alone.

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