Oxygen tanks at six medical centers in the north have been reinforced to prevent a catastrophe in the event of a missile hit, says Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri. Broken windows at Ziv Hospital in Safed are being replaced with reinforced glass while those in other hospitals are being taped to prevent any glass splinters from harming patients and staff.
The health minister is in regular contact with the directors-general of all the medical centers in the area affected by Hizbullah missiles. "The staff are all on the job, even though many residents left their towns and cities in the north. The hospital directors told me their staffs are even managing to perform elective surgery in addition to treating urgent cases."
Ben-Yizri, in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, said that the Western Galilee Government Hospital in Nahariya was fortunate to have been built on top of an underground facility. "There are very few hospitals in the world with such a thing. When the missiles started flying, patients were moved underneath."
While the Treasury has allocated NIS 12 million to help northern hospitals cope with urgent needs during the current emergency, Ben-Yizri is aware of the fact that the hospitals have long-term development demands. "We have development plans in the government hospitals over the long term, but it takes time and money," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview in his office, which will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, Ben-Yizri promised that responsibility for psychiatric care, until now provided by the ministry, will on January 1 finally be transferred to the four public health funds. Patients will receive psychiatric care from their insurers like any medical care for physical ailments, so the stigma of psychiatric treatment will be reduced, said the minister, who added that financial arrangements for the transfer are being worked out with the Treasury. The National Health Insurance Law, passed in 1994, was to facilitate this transfer soon after implementation in 1995, but it has been held up due to opposition from Treasury budget officials and others.
Ben-Yizri said the Gil Pensioners Party that sent him to the Knesset and the cabinet already has won increased allocations for income supplements to the needy, and that low-income pensioners who have chronic illnesses will pay lower fees for medications.
Meanwhile, the Israel Medical Association (IMA) has established an open-phone line accessible 24 hours a day that provides information to physicians about the emergency situation. By calling (03) 606-0651, medical staffers can get updates on the functioning of medical institutions in the North, the impact of the security situation on doctors' work, families willing to host doctorsâ€š families under missile threats in the north and requests for aid.
The Hadassah Medical Organization has, from the beginning of the war, been sending ambulances from Jerusalem to the Nahariya every day to go from one bomb shelter to another to relieve the physical and emotional suffering of residents, especially children.
Many youngsters have developed acute anxiety, causing some to wet their beds and have problems falling asleep. Psychiatrists, social workers, clinical psychologists, pediatricians and others leave Hadassah University Medical Centers in Ein Kerem and on Mount Scopus, work in Nahariya and then return home late at night.
Hadassah physicians have also gone voluntarily to Safed's Ziv Hospital to bolster its medical staffers, whose institution took a direct hit by a Hizbullah missile, causing physical damage and eight people, including one doctor, to suffer light wounds.