7 hospitals threaten to turn away COVID patients Monday, allege official neglect

Hospital directors say government must boost level of support for them to continue operations, warn of service downgrade starting Wednesday; minister holds impromptu talks

Hospital directors hold a press conference protesting the lack of funding for the Israeli healthcare system, in Jerusalem, August 22, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)
Hospital directors hold a press conference protesting the lack of funding for the Israeli healthcare system, in Jerusalem, August 22, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

The heads of seven hospitals in Israel threatened to stop accepting new COVID-19 patients starting Monday, pleading for government funds, with staff and resources stretched to the limit, they said.

In a press conference on Sunday, the hospital directors alleged that they were the victims of government neglect, kicking off a protest against what they said was continued underfunding and lack of adequate steps to support the healthcare system after 16 months of crisis.

“We have been abandoned at the height of the coronavirus crisis,” a joint statement from the seven read. “We have reached the worst crisis in our history.”

The threat came just weeks after top government officials announced a plan to pump billions of shekels into the healthcare system to prepare for an onslaught of coronavirus cases.

Policy officials have warned that intensive care units could be filled with as many as 2,400 coronavirus patients in serious condition by mid-September. Health Ministry data Sunday evening showed over 1,100 hospital beds nationwide taken up by coronavirus patients, 669 of whom were listed in serious condition.

“In the current situation, we are unable to continue treatments,” Dr. Ofer Marin, director of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. “We have no equipment, means, and salaries to pay. Our conscience forces us to stop treating coronavirus patients starting tomorrow.”

Ofer Marin, director of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center speaks to reporters in Jerusalem, August 22, 2021.(Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“There are seven hospital directors sitting here who have been through four coronavirus waves,” Marin said. “We are working day and night, seven days a week, to save Israel, the most ‘red’ cities,” he said.

“For a year and a half, we have been using our workers day and night to save the country. I am ashamed to stand here as a beggar,” Marin added.

The medical centers participating in the protest are Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek and Hadassah hospitals, Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Bnei Brak’s Mayanei HaYeshua, Haifa’s Italian Hospital, and the English Hospital in Nazareth.

The directors said that starting on Wednesday, they will downgrade their general level of service to Shabbat footing, which limits the health center’s operations to life-saving treatment only. It is how most hospitals in the country operate on weekends, but will now be indefinite to save costs, or until an agreement is reached.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and ministry director Nachman Ash showed up at the press conference, held near their ministry’s offices, and later held impromptu talks with the directors. “We know of the problem and we’ll take care of it,” Horowitz said.

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There were no reports of talks with officials from the Finance Ministry, who hold the purse strings for the hospitals.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 1,129 people infected with coronavirus had been hospitalized as of Sunday afternoon, including 669 in serious condition and 107 on ventilators.

The ministry on Sunday reported 5,380 cases confirmed Saturday, with an additional 3,745 since midnight, bringing the number of active cases in the country to 65,780.

There have been 990,428 verified infections and 6,830 COVID fatalities in the country since the pandemic began.

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