The Health Ministry, too often known as a bundle of red tape with staffers reluctant to share information with the public, will next week be ready to answer your questions. Kol Habriut (The Voice of Health) – a phone contact center located in Kiryat Malachi – will on Monday launch a unique service that accepts calls from around the country and answers queries six days a week. The center can be reached by dialing *5400.

“We hardly dealt with this need in the past,” said Natalio Rozenblum, a veteran ministry staffer in Jerusalem who is responsible for organization management and methods, in an interview Tuesday with The Jerusalem Post.

When Prof. Ronni Gamzu – the ministry’s director-general since June of last year – was appointed, he met with Rozenblum and discussed how to improve service to the public.

The two decided that a telephone information service on matters dealt with by the ministry itself (but not the state hospitals and other ministry- owned institutions) was urgently needed.

Within a record 12 months, the service began as a pilot program, and on Monday, it will be fully in place. Rozenblum said that a state tender that gives priority to employment in the periphery chose the development down of Kiryat Malachi, which is located 17 km. southeast of Ashdod.

Twenty-three people, all but one of them women, were hired and sent to a training course to familiarize them with ministry services, departments, divisions, units and branches and to look for information via a computer system.

Those requiring personal information will need to supply their identity card numbers.

Working two shifts a day – 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

on Fridays and the eves of holidays – the telephone operators will cope with queries in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian; at least two Arabs from villages in the area work during each shift, said Rozenblum.

The pilot program began with information related to some of the departments and units that have been most difficult to reach, said Rozenblum.

These include the department of medical professions; pharmaceutical division; Israel Food Service; medical equipment licensing unit; mental health and geriatric divisions; public health service; quality assessment complaints office; rehabilitation and mobility division; and the ministry ombudswoman’s office.

As the fully fledged contact service develops, it will gradually expand to include district health offices, the dental health service, the ministry’s chief psychologist, epidemiology and public tenders office.

Even suggestions for improvement in the ministry will be accepted and sent to their proper address.

But as the staff are not physicians or other medical professionals, questions relating to medical matters will be referred to relevant offices.

Among the most common questions from callers so far, said Rozenblum, have been queries on whether and when individuals received a ministry license, if a doctor who calls himself a specialist is indeed one; and complaints to the ombudswoman (although these must be presented later in writing).

Rozenblum said that while the Transport Ministry’s Licensing Bureau does have such a contact center, the Health Ministry’s Kol Habriut is the first to provide one for all the ministry’s units.

The official ceremony in Kiryat Malachi will be attended by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, Minister for Improvement of Government Information Michael Eitan, Kiryat Malachi Mayor Motti Malka and other officials.

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