Special Needs: A new rehabilitative path in the Negev

“The people in the Negev deserve facilities that are as good as, or better than, those that are available for the people in the center of the country,” says Siev-Ner.

By ALAN ROSENBAUM
June 28, 2019 14:32
Special Needs: A new rehabilitative path in the Negev

A NONVERBAL resident uses eye-tracking technology to communicate with her teacher at ALEH’s special education school in the Negev.. (photo credit: ALEH)

Doron Almog, a military hero and chairman of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, the renowned rehabilitative village that cares for children and adults with severe disabilities, speaks succinctly and directly: “It’s not enough to be a role model, like Ben-Gurion, who moved to the Negev to live in Sde Boker. If you want to build the Negev, you need to attract many people to follow you.”

ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, in keeping with Almog’s directive, is in the midst of building a neuro-orthopedic rehabilitation hospital that will attract more people to live in the area and benefit the existing population of the Negev.

Dr. Itzhak Siev-Ner, medical director of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran and director of the Division of Rehabilitation at the Health Ministry, explains that the 108-bed rehabilitation hospital that is being built adjacent to the existing village “will be a real game changer for the southern part of Israel.”

Siev-Ner notes that the existing rehabilitation facilities that are currently located in the South are minimal, and do not meet the needs of Negev residents who need rehabilitation following accidents, strokes, terrorist attacks or army-related injuries.

Rehabilitation patients in the Negev, including both soldiers and civilians, spend hours traveling to hospitals and rehabilitation centers, such as Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan or Beit Loewenstein in Ra’anana.

The population of the Negev is expected to reach 800,000 over the next few years, including military personnel, and by 2050 the population of those 70 years of age and higher will triple.

It was clear to the ALEH directorate that there is an urgent need for a rehabilitation hospital, which would advance the ALEH mission of rehabilitation and inclusion, bring quality rehabilitative care to the residents of the South, and create more housing and jobs in the Negev. The government decision to move three IDF bases to the Negev also contributed to the need for a rehabilitation hospital in the area.

The neuro-orthopedic rehabilitation hospital, which will be completed within two years, will make state-of-the-art facilities available to Negev residents, just a short drive from their homes.

“The people in the Negev deserve facilities that are as good as, or better than, those that are available for the people in the center of the country,” says Siev-Ner.

The hospital will house three 36-patient inpatient wards, for treating orthopedic rehabilitation, spinal rehabilitation and neuro-rehabilitation, making it only the third rehabilitation hospital in the country to offer subspecialty treatments (the other two are Sheba and Loewenstein). Currently, a 28-bed facility for outpatient care is already operating in the ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran facilities.
Siev-Ner adds that staff at the rehabilitation hospital will conduct research that will be used to provide practical improvements in patient care.

“The research goes together with the clinics, and the mutual, dynamic process between the clinic and research is very enriching to each,” he says.

The hospital’s education and research center will attract medical students, nursing students, physiotherapy and occupational therapy students, and he says, “This is how you attract good people. When you have students, as teachers, you improve. The students are exposed to the place, and some will return. And the research, combining research with clinics, is a great advantage.”
ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran has already begun a research affiliation with Ben-Gurion University Medical School and has four PhD students from Ben-Gurion working on translational research, in which laboratory research is transferred and applied to clinical work.
The idea, Siev-Ner explains, is to present clinical needs to scientists. “We brainstorm, and they develop something, which we then examine in the clinical field. There is a continuous dialogue to see if it works, and we then implement it in clinical work.”

As an example, Siev-Ner cites the development of a virtual reality device that is currently being used to help rehab patients use their hands to exercise. “When the patient is exercising with his hands, he sees an image of a dolphin that he needs to lead to eat the fish.”

A RESIDENT with severe disabilities enjoys the tactile sensations of equine therapy. (Credit: ALEH)

These types of enhancements and improvements in rehabilitation provide patients with additional therapy that they can do on their own, in addition to the therapy that they receive from therapists, provide a more robust rehabilitation, and ultimately can turn inpatients into outpatients.

ALEH NEGEV-Nahalat Eran is part of the ALEH organization, which operates four branches throughout the country – in Bnei Brak, Gedera, Jerusalem and the Negev – providing quality, comprehensive care to more than 700 children with complex disabilities.
ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran is supported by a combination of private donations, government funding and assistance provided by the Jewish National Fund-USA as part of its Blueprint Negev project.

Almog’s son Eran was born with severe autism and intellectual disabilities, lived at ALEH Negev, and after his death in 2007 was honored by having his name added to the village’s name.

Doron Almog has been outspoken on the need to better integrate individuals with disabilities into society, as a vision of building a more just and humane culture. For him, the neuro-orthopedic rehabilitation hospital is an expression of further integration and inclusion. It is expected that the proximity of the ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran village will lead to increased interaction between the population of the village and rehabilitation patients from within the greater Negev community. In addition, the village’s therapeutic pool, horse-riding track, vocational center, petting zoo and therapeutic gardens will all be available to residents of the rehabilitation hospital.

Perhaps the best example of Almog’s integrative vision can be found in the kindergarten that meets in ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran village. Like most kindergartens, it is busy, noisy and colorful. Unlike others, however, it integrates children with and without disabilities, Jews and Bedouin. For these children, integration and acceptance of those who may not look the same begins at an early age. While initially there were doubts if the program would succeed, today there is a waiting list of 30 children to get into the kindergarten.

Another example of the integrative nature of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran is the lovely, pastoral greenery of the village which, Almog explains, is tended by a group of 20 gardeners with cognitive disabilities who did not serve in the army, were not accepted as employees, but who do excellent work at ALEH Negev, and who are paid fairly for their efforts.

Siev-Ner explains that one of the major obstacles to the rehabilitation hospital project was making the Negev an attractive location for healthcare professionals.

Recounting the project’s beginnings, Siev-Ner says that “Doron asked me, ‘What do you think of opening a rehabilitation hospital at ALEH Negev?’ I said, ‘It’s a wonderful idea, but the real challenge will be to bring high-level professionals, including rehabilitation specialists, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists and nutritionists to the Negev. How would you do that?” Almog assured him that they would solve that problem by building an affordable and attractive neighborhood to house the staff.
Siev-Ner smiles and says of Almog’s determination, “When you meet Doron, there is no turning back. You are with him, and that’s it.”
It was with this in mind that the community of Merhavei Daniel was approved by the local council. Slated for construction to the west of Ofakim and adjacent to ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, Merhavei Daniel will eventually accommodate 500 families, integrate residents with severe complex disabilities as part of the communal fabric, and provide housing for the medical professionals employed at the neuro-orthopedic rehabilitation hospital. Planning for the development has begun, and it is anticipated that residents will be arriving in the next three to five years.

Almog speaks passionately and forcefully of the need for more participation, volunteerism and integration in society. “We can do better to establish a better society with more mutual responsibility, awareness, more activity and acceptance and inclusion.”
His late son, Eran, could not speak, but, he says, his son taught him a great deal about life. “Working with disabled people gives us proportions and tests us, as individuals, but also as a society and as a nation.”

The upcoming neuro-orthopedic rehabilitation hospital at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, with its fully supportive medical environment within the ALEH community, is a fulfillment of this vision.


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