Sitting astride the rugged sand dunes of the port city of Ashdod, the gleaming Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital, Israel’s newest hospital, has just completed its first year of operation. While hospital officials are justifiably proud of the spacious facility that is equipped with the very latest in medical technology, what makes Assuta Ashdod unique is an old-fashioned determination to treat patients skillfully, while offering excellent service.
A recent visit with department heads at the hospital brought this concept into clearer focus. Dr. Debra West, head of the Helmsley Charitable Trust Emergency Department, and former director of the surgical emergency unit at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, explains.
“We came here to create a new reality,” West says. “It was very clear to us that this was a unique opportunity to do things differently. We all know there are a lot of issues with the health system in Israel, in particular with emergency departments and their interfaces with the community.”
“We put an enormous emphasis on the patient experience and on information dispensation, explaining to the patients and their families at every point in time what to expect,” she continues. “We are constantly communicating with them.”
The treatment approach of the hospital’s emergency department, which she is spearheading, epitomizes Assuta Ashdod’s patient-first approach.
“In most other hospitals in the country, ER patients get divided immediately to different disciplines according to their suspected problem,” she says. “Here, patients come in and see my team of emergency medicine experts, who are trained to deal with all emergencies. We are the only hospital in the country that has board-certified emergency medicine doctors available 24/7.”
Prof. Mordechai “Moti” Pansky, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Assuta, explains why doctors who come to Assuta are especially motivated to provide top-level care.
“There are three kinds of doctors that come to work at Assuta,” he says. “There are older doctors like me, who have 30 years of experience. We are at the peak of our profession, and are looking to do something new.”
Next, he says, “there are doctors in their early 40s who have done work outside Israel, and see an opportunity to head departments that would take them many years to reach at other hospitals.”
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The third group, he says, “is composed of younger doctors who have recently completed their specialization, and say to themselves, ‘I can advance here.’”
All three groups, says Pansky, see Assuta Ashdod as a place where they can make their mark. The fact that all the hospital department heads were joining a new venture and had to initiate new practices and standards was challenging, but ultimately beneficial for the patients.
DR. YONATAN “Yonni” Yeshayahu is head of the Dr. Lina Drahi Center for Pediatric Medicine at Assuta. A graduate of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Yeshayahu specialized in pediatrics at Hadassah University Medical Center, practiced children’s endocrinology at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and was stationed as a senior doctor and deputy director of pediatrics at Sheba Medical Center (Tel Hashomer) in Ramat Gan.
“When a new department head is chosen, he enters an existing system, which has both good and bad points,” he explains. “Here, I had the unusual opportunity to build a department from scratch, hand-pick the best personnel and bring them here. Understanding that on the one hand, they will have to roll up their sleeves and work, but having said that, our physicians will have a true impact on the way the department functions, since they joined first and can really create the atmosphere and define the level of professionalism in this newly opened hospital.”
Yeshayahu explains that the work of Assuta Ashdod’s doctors extends beyond the hospital.
“We go out to the community, and we send an endocrinologist from the hospital to Kiryat Gat and Ashkelon once a week,” he says. “There is a ripple effect beyond the hospital, in that we are bringing medical specialists to Israel’s periphery. The hospital is a hub from which the specialists and experts go to all areas of the periphery.”
Assuta Ashdod serves not only the Ashdod area, but many communities beyond the city’s environs, such as Gan Yavne, Ness Ziona, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat, Netivot, and many other communities.
Prof. Haim Bitterman, hospital director, speaks of the stark differences between medical treatment in the center of the country as compared to the periphery. “We found a complex situation, in that Assuta Ashdod is only 35 kilometers (approximately 22 miles) from Tel Aviv, and yet we found all of the characteristics of a medical periphery, with under usage of medical services. Before the hospital was built, if one had to travel an hour to visit a diabetic clinic to better balance his blood sugar, he might choose to stay home and suffer with high blood sugar, because of the inconvenience of the distance to the clinic.”
Pansky from obstetrics echoes Bitterman, and adds, “In Israel, people are used to the idea that medical services should be nearby. We found many cases here that we didn’t see just 20 kilometers away, in the center of the country.”
He relates the tragic story of a 60-year-old woman who began to experience symptoms of illness a year ago, but delayed examination because she reasoned that she didn’t have the time to go to the hospital and spend an hour traveling, many hours waiting to be examined, and then make the long journey home. After Assuta Ashdod was opened, she came to the hospital, and they found a cancer that had spread throughout her body.
Pansky mentions that the obstetrics section of the hospital was expected to accommodate around 2,000 births in the first year. Smiling, he says that one year after opening, the hospital has already hosted 5,000 births, 250% above expectations. Previously, women in the area had to go to Ashkelon, Rehovot and even Tel Aviv to give birth.
NOW, FOR the first time, Ashdod is listed on identity cards as the place of birth. The obstetrics department reaches out to the surrounding communities as well, he says.
“Since we opened, we send five or six doctors during the week to both the general gynecological clinics as well as to high-risk pregnancy clinics in Sderot, Netivot, Rehovot and Ashdod.” He adds that they have opened courses for women who have given birth at the hospital, who meet with the pediatrician, gynecologist and nursing specialist after two months, to report on issues and difficulties that they may be encountering. Community reaction and feedback to the department’s efforts is steadily improving, he says.
What are the plans for Assuta Ashdod in year two and beyond? Bitterman says, “There is no doubt that the hospital, with 300 beds, is too small for the city. We want to grow, and eventually double the number of available beds to 600 or even 700.”
Recently, Assuta Ashdod opened its school for professional training, attended by doctors, nurses and all-support staff at the hospital, which will instill values and professionalism across all levels of the hospital staff to provide patients with the optimum experience.
“Our vision,” says Bitterman,“is to be able to provide high-level quality care, open to all, along with developing integration with the community, offering continuous service from the home to the hospital and everything in between, with top-quality medical care and service.”
The doctors and staff at Assuta Ashdod acknowledge that a long road lies ahead to achieving this lofty goal, but they say, they are well on their way.
Perhaps West puts it best: “We want people to come out and say, ‘I felt that I was in the best of hands.’”
This article was written in cooperation with Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital.
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