The military opened two coronavirus wards in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center on Sunday, marking the first time the Israel Defense Forces will provide medical care to Israeli civilians in the country’s 72-year history.
“The IDF has never treated civilians, even in the hard days of the 1950s,” said the military’s chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Alon Glasberg.
According to the military, roughly 100 military medical personnel will take part in this effort — dubbed Operation Tribe of Brothers — including doctors, nurses, medics and others from the IDF Medical Corps.
The move came as the country’s hospitals were struggling to provide care for the growing number of moderate and severe coronavirus cases — due largely to manpower shortages — following a large outbreak of the disease throughout the country in recent weeks. As of Sunday morning, 1,571 coronavirus patients were receiving treatment in hospitals. Of them, 820 were in serious condition and 304 had moderate symptoms, according to the Health Ministry.
The military announced its plan to open the two wards, which will treat dozens of coronavirus patients, nearly two weeks ago. Since then the soldiers taking part have been training for the operation, learning how to treat the coronavirus and work in the full-body protective gear needed to avoid infection.
“The training included theoretical and practical content that prepared the teams for treating the coronavirus patients who come to wards in the most professional and humane ways possible,” the military said.
Glasberg said the preparations were done at a “dizzying speed.”
The military said the training was performed by staff from Rambam, in accordance with Health Ministry directives.
The wards were established in converted underground parking garages in the hospital. These were initially built in large part to serve as reinforced wards in the case of rocket fire on the hospital, following such attacks by the Hezbollah terror group during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The military medical professionals were pulled from units from across the army, mostly from training bases.
Asked if this would harm the military’s ability to provide medical care to soldiers in these units, Glasberg responded: “I can’t say yes or no, but I can say that it will be a challenge.”
“There will be a big price to the system,” he added.
The IDF doctors, nurses and medics will not wear uniforms in the wards as it wouldn’t be seen under the full-body protective gear they will have to wear, Glasberg said.
However, on their suits there will be a picture of them so that patients “know that the ‘alien’ standing in front of them is a person,” he said.
The wards will be under the command of Col. Dr. Erez Karp, former deputy-director of Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center.
The head of Rambam hospital, Dr. Michael Halbertal, said bringing in the military was a “force multiplier” for the medical center, freeing up its staff for other efforts.
While Halbertal praised the efforts of the IDF, he lamented that the country had reached a situation in which the military was needed to supplement the care provided by hospitals.
“This situation didn’t need to happen. We could have prevented this,” he told reporters. “Masks, social distancing, hygiene could have prevented the illness.”