Knesset members will call Tuesday for a national master plan to cope with what the health minister has described as “the next biggest crisis” — the expected near-doubling of Israel’s elderly population over the next 20 years.
Nachman Shai and Itzik Shmuli of Zionist Union, along with Kulanu’s Tali Ploskov, will make the appeal, while government ministries, the National Insurance Institute, academics, NGOs, local authorities, health funds and others gather to mark the Knesset’s Day of the Elderly.
The Knesset’s research and information department has prepared a document explaining how other countries, such as Ireland, the Czech Republic and Singapore, are preparing for similar challenges, Channel 2 News reported Monday.
Currently, government responsibility for services to the elderly are split between ministries. Two ministries – one for social welfare, the other for social equality — deal with elderly welfare, while the Health Ministry is responsible for old-age homes and the Finance Ministry incorporates the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority. In addition, the National Insurance Institute deals with nursing care and financial benefits.
“We must stop [merely] putting out fires,” Ploskov told Channel 2. “We must build a national master plan for aging in which we can talk about all the subjects relevant to the elderly.”
Some 900,000 out of 8.3 million Israelis (around 11 percent) were classified as elderly (65 and over) in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.
By 2035, they are expected to number 1.66 million, and to make up 15 percent of the population, according to an October 2016 report by the Welfare Ministry’s director of senior citizen services, Galit Mevorach.
The trend is explained by declining fertility (which is still high relative to other Western countries) and by increases in life expectancy, which, at 80.3 for men and 84.1 for women, is one of the highest in the world.
The challenge relates both to the numbers and to the cultural diversity of the elderly: Only 28% of retirees were born in Israel, with nearly half (49%) having immigrated before 1990. The remaining 23% arrived after 1990, primarily from the former Soviet Union.
Furthermore, of all the elderly, between a quarter and a third are Holocaust survivors, depending on definition, many of whom are re-experiencing trauma and nightmares now that they have stopped working and have time to reflect.
Mevorach noted that while “Israel provides a broad and diverse basket of services, provided by many agencies… the challenge is to create a coordinated, accessible and efficient system. The fragmented system makes it difficult for the elderly and their families to make the best use of the service system and creates inefficiency.”
She added, “There is already a shortage at the infrastructure level as well as a shortage of manpower to care for elderly in all areas – doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers etc.”
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which negotiates with the German government for Holocaust damages in cash, transferred $1.38 billion to Israel between 1988 and 2016 for services and capital investment to benefit Israeli survivors
That has included $109 million for building and renovating hospitals (from 2000), $155 million for old-age homes and centers (from 1990) and $42 million toward sheltered public housing (from 1996).
All these facilities are aimed at survivors — who must make up at least half of all users — but they also benefit elderly people who did not endure the Holocaust.
That capital support is to be completely phased out over the next few years as Claims Conference income from the sales of unclaimed Jewish property in East Germany ends.
At a recent Knesset event to honor the Claims Conference, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) predicted that the need for elderly nursing care would be “the biggest next crisis.”
MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), who heads the government’s Committee to Fight Poverty, and who initiated the Knesset ceremony, charged that the Social Affairs Ministry currently has no budget for capital development and depends entirely on donations.
Roni Ozeri, chairman of the association of old-age homes in Israel, confirmed that “not an agora [the smallest unit of Israeli currency] comes from the government” for renovating old-age homes, “and we have to think of the day after [the Claims Conference funding dries up].”
Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of the National Insurance Institute, said, “The Government must prepare programs and get used to the fact that the Claims Conference is not forever, and that the elderly population is growing, regardless of the survivors.”
Earlier this year, a special report by the state comptroller, published days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, painted a shocking picture of government failure to extend help to elderly Holocaust survivors, who are dying at the rate of 1,000 a month.
That report described poor government coordination, a failure to use funds already budgeted complex laws that are difficult to navigate for aging survivors — many of whom can neither use the internet nor are sufficiently proficient in Hebrew — and a lack of government support for survivors who arrived in Israel in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union.