As kites set ablaze are being hurled from Gaza across the border into Israel, residents in the country’s South are terrified. They worry that an escalation may occur and what the damage will be. They worry about their children if they are forced to evacuate their homes. They worry if the next round with Gaza will be more haunting than the last.
Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, which opened its doors last year, can at least put their mind at ease when it comes to one very critical aspect of life – healthcare.
As the nation’s first new public hospital in 40 years, Assuta Ashdod has assembled a team of medical and security experts to ensure that the hospital is a well-oiled machine in times of war, but also in peace.
The 70,000-square-meter (750,000-square-foot) facility, with 250 doctors and 500 nurses, brought to the city a new game-changing model for population health management and integrated care: the deliberate coordination of patient care between the hospital’s medical staff and community healthcare providers – saving lives, improving patient outcome and increasing efficiency.
But at its core, the hospital prides itself as being a beacon of safety for Israel’s South.
At the helm is Prof. Joshua “Shuki” Shemer, a former IDF surgeon general, whose main priority is protecting and treating the 250,000 residents of Ashdod, the country’s fifth largest city, as well as an additional quarter million in the region.
Until now, residents had to travel to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon or Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot for treatment, in an emergency a journey that was inconvenient at best and deadly at worst.
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“There was a necessity to build a hospital to serve the people in Ashdod in peace and war,” Shemer asserted, claiming the hospital is doing much to boost the city’s resilience.
As such, the hospital is heavily protected in the event of rocket attacks, chemical and biological warfare and even earthquakes.
As rumors of war continue to swirl, in this uncertain and tense climate, it is important that residents know this a hospital they can rely on.
“I think that since we opened the hospital it strengthened our resilience in time of peace. Ashdod residents are more secure than they were before,” he said.
Shemer, who spent decades serving the IDF, knows of what he speaks. “This is part of my DNA. All my professional life I was responsible for national preparedness in times of war and peace,” he said.
As such, well before the hospital broke ground, planning was under way to ensure no stone was left unturned regarding safety.
Top hospital brass consulted with IDF Home Front Command officers and Health Ministry officials to ensure that all protocols were in place.
Like Shemer, Assuta has recruited many physicians who also have a rich history of service in the military.
Dr. Yuval Bloch, medical director at Assuta Medical Center Rishon Lezion, for example, has a CV that is a perfect hybrid of defense and medical know-how that exemplifies much of the hospital’s senior staff.
As the doctor responsible for emergency preparedness in his previous job at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Bloch often gives lectures on public health in times of crisis.
“This is an important hobby of mine,” said Bloch, who is also a reserve officer at IDF’s Home Front Command.
Bloch spent more than a year planning the hospital emergency preparedness protocols with Dr. Hadar Marom, deputy director of Assuta Ashdod.
“To build a new hospital from scratch in that short amount of time and to create a team of people who haven’t worked together takes a lot of thought and planning,” Bloch said.
Marom and Bloch were integral to the planning stages of the hospital and were responsible for risk management, quality assurance and emergency preparedness.
“Ashdod is located just 16 miles from the Gaza Strip. When we decided to build the hospital, our first priority was to build a ‘rocket-safe’ hospital using a bomb shelter design to protect patients and staff. This ensures that we can work without interruption during times of conflict,” said Marom, the previous head of the IDF Medical Services Branch who retired three years ago with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
“It is known that in Israel the home front becomes the battleground itself. We saw this in previous wars and operations. Hospitals become a very fragile place if they are not protected because you have to move patients to a protected area, which is very challenging.”
So what happens in the event war does break out? The hospital goes into overdrive mode regarding its logistics. As the hospital’s head of operations, Danny Moshayov lives and breathes this possible scenario every day.
“My job is to make sure we can provide the best care for the patients.
I’m in charge of logistics regarding engineering, medical supplies, food and more,” he explained. “I also wear another hat – I’m in charge of the IDF’s Home Front Command requirements for times of war.”
Moshayov is part of a special team responsible for military preparedness that includes himself, Marom and Anat Raz, the hospital’s risk management coordinator.
This entails writing manuals detailing what each staff member must do in an emergency and executing drills so that when disaster does strike, the hospital is ready for action.
“Drills simulate a mass casualty event. We simulate a car accident or a bombing and, in partnership with Magen David Adom, we bring the ‘patients’ to the ER and the entire ER is overhauled as they instantly switch from their regular routine to emergency mode,” he said.
This will include, for example, moving the triage to the main ER entrance, moving vital equipment to where doctors will be stationed and calling in specialist physicians and nurses from all departments.
Unfortunately, Israel is quite experienced in conflict and, as the first public hospital built in the country in four decades, Assuta has benefited from learning lessons ranging from the First Lebanon War to Operation Protective Edge.
That said, the hospital is not resting on its laurels. It’s still very eager to expand on what it has accomplished during its short lifespan.
Specifically, it hopes to add 500 hospital beds underground, to ensure the safety of more patients in a time of emergency.
It is a dream of Prof. Shemer, and one that is supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but as of yet has not come to fruition.
While preparing for missile strikes from Gaza is critical – Ashdod residents only have 45 seconds to find shelter should a siren go off – there are many other unexpected events the hospital must take into account.
For example, in April, a fire in an apartment building broke out and 30 small children were evacuated to the new hospital.
Had the accident happened over a year ago, the children would have had to travel a greater distance to receive emergency treatment.
“Every time someone from Ashdod comes to this hospital they are overwhelmed. This hospital saves lives every day,” he said. “They are in good hands because we are here.” ■ This article was written in cooperation with Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital
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