Israel Nurses Association head Ilana Cohen on Tuesday denounced Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s plan to establish a training program in nursing at ORT technical high schools for some 35 Jewish female students from Ashkelon and an equal number of Beduin girls from Abu Basma in the Negev.

The young women would study for two years after high school and graduate as full-fledged registered nurses after “14th grade.”

Former MK Cohen – a nurse and longtime advocate for the profession – did not mention Litzman’s name but insisted that such a program would cheapen nursing, which has for more than a decade moved toward academia and upgrading with college degrees.

She said that Litzman’s program would lower the standard of know-how, professionalism and healthcare in the community and hospitals if it were to be implemented, even if it would increase the number of professionals who could call themselves nurses.

Cohen was speaking at the beginning of a three-day professional international conference, titled “Nursing: Caring to Know, Knowing to Care,” at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel, which was attended by some 500 nurses – about half of them Israelis and the rest foreigners from 27 countries on five continents.

The conference was organized by the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Faculty, headed by Prof. Eran Leitersdorf, and the Canadian Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario.

Cohen told The Jerusalem Post after the morning session that the “misguided idea” belonged to Litzman. She maintained that if the plan were implemented, the Education Ministry would pay ORT a significant amount for each nursing pupil even though “it would not lead to high-quality work.”

Cohen claimed that Litzman and ORT director-general Zvi Peleg were “friends.”

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the Health Ministry’s director-general, who spoke after Cohen, declined to comment on the ORT plan.

“It is indeed a dilemma on my desk, and I will solve it in the proper way,” he said.

Asked later to comment, Gamzu, through the ministry spokeswoman, said it was Litzman’s plan and not his own and that he would not comment on it.

Peleg told the Post on Tuesday evening that it was he who presented the idea to Litzman.

“As we prepare young people from our high schools as engineering technicians in the 13th and 14th grade, I can prepare high school graduates – girls as well as boys – to become registered nurses,” Peleg said.

“We can help increase the number of young nurses, as there is an extreme shortage. Not everyone has to be an academically trained nurse.”

He said he didn’t know who would pay for such a program – either the Health Ministry or the Education Ministry – but that girls who could not afford to pay tuition could get state scholarships.

He said that Beduin girls would have to study in Abu Basma as their families do not let them set foot outside their community before the age of 20. The Beduin community – and hospitals everywhere – suffer from a severe shortage of nurses.

Peleg said that Gamzu told him in a meeting that he was “in favor” of such a pilot program in ORT institutions in Ashkelon and in the Beduin settlement, and that he couldn’t explain why the ministry directorgeneral suddenly refused to comment, “except that maybe he’s afraid of Ilana Cohen and her nurses.”

Peleg said Cohen threatened to carry out a nurses strike if the program went through and told her union members to refuse to cooperate with the would-be ORT nursing graduates in the public hospitals.

Peleg said that “not every nurse has to be a college graduate,” but that if they wanted to upgrade themselves later, they could choose to do so. As it is, added Peleg, haredi girls at Laniado Hospital’s nursing school in Netanya study only four days a week and become registered nurses after two years, and at ORT, they would study five days.

In any case, graduates of an ORT nursing program would be able to qualify only if they passed the Health Ministry’s licensing exam, he said.

At the conference, which was chaired by Hadassah nursing chief Dr. Miri Rom, Gamzu said that 2,300 nursing students will start their studies next year.

“We need higher numbers and higher quality. Unless the nurses of tomorrow are very well educated, we will not have a high-quality system.”

Gamzu said that in the current situation, in which hospitals have an average of almost 100 percent occupancy and patients in internal medicine departments often lying in beds in hallways, such lack of decent care is “a stain on our health system.”

Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the former longtime director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization and recently named director-general of the National Insurance Institute, praised the Hadassah organization for “establishing the healthcare system in Israel 100 years ago.”

Aside from Hadassah giving the best nursing and doctors’ care, conducting research and teaching, “Hadassah’s mission statement is to serve as a bridge to peace. Not many hospitals have such a mission statement. It is done on a daily basis. Jews, Arabs, Christians, secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox share the same facilities and sometimes talk to each other for the first time.”

Pointing out the major changes in nursing since 1912, Mor-Yosef discussed 3-D color imaging of the body, functional MRI scanning, minimally invasive surgery, telemedicine, patient and family involvement in the decision-making process, training with simulation devices and superspecialization, but said that at the same time, “not every nurse has to do every job.”

But Mor-Yosef said that that the system would have to find a balance between care in the community and the hospitals, and “escort patients between these facilities, which would collaborate with each other. The challenge is not to change others but to adapt to a new era.”

As a way of increasing the supply of nursing care, Mor-Yosef endorsed the foreign idea of nurse practitioners and physician assistants who get less training but perform tasks that academic nurses and MDs don’t have time for. He concluded by supporting the idea of opening these new professions in Israel and making these professionals part of the hospital management team.

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