Overworked and understaffed

In the office on an uncomfortable-looking chair, the weekend duty doctor dozes in exhaustion, her face showing the strains of a 36-hour shift not yet completed.

Many public institutions suffer continual government cutbacks these days. However there are institutions that should and must not be affected by cutbacks and staff reductions: our hospitals. This article was prompted neither by outside comment nor by complaints from overworked professional staff, rather by recent personal experience in one particular hospital and visiting friends hospitalized in others across the country. The Sieff hospital in Safed is perched on a hilltop with a panorama of beauty that envelops sweeping hillsides surrounding fertile valleys with villages tucked away in their folds. A place, one would think, ideal for caring, tranquillity and recovery. Yet the Internal B department of the hospital is much affected by the situation in Israel's health care system. It is 6:30 on a Sunday morning. In every room, all the beds are occupied plus an overspill that now begins to line the corridors. In the office on an uncomfortable-looking chair, the weekend duty doctor dozes in exhaustion, her face showing the strains of a 36-hour shift not yet completed. How is it possible for her to fully care for and oversee the treatment required by the present patient occupation of 40 souls to the best of her ability? The actual capacity of the ward is 32 beds, and even that is a lot for one doctor to attend to. The nursing staff are overworked and many at the point of breakdown. How can they ensure that all patients receive appropriate and prompt treatment? They have neither the time nor the patience to treat patients as individual human beings, while many of the cases require time and understanding. Granted, the Israeli public is not an easy one, often over-demanding and excitable. In this particular hospital a large percentage of the patients are religious or from the surrounding Druse villages. The custom in these communities is to support their sick by being "with them" in every possible way in order to provide the care they believe is needed. This means non-stop traffic of visits and discussion, the supply of nourishing home food, and taking it in shifts to care for the hospitalized family member. The hubbub is continual in small wards that can hardly provide space for the four beds crammed within. The supposed rule for visitors is to leave the premises by 9 p.m., but since it proves impossible to apply this, noise and movement disturb those patients who require quiet and rest. Indeed, respecting rules is not a strong point of the Israeli public. There are large NO SMOKING signs in all the lobbies and public places, but it seems that the benches under these signs provide the ideal place to light up - no ashtrays, of course, but what does that matter? As there are no receptacles for the ash and butts, down they go on the floor - same on the small verandas that surround the building, which instead of providing a restful view of the scenery and a breath of fresh air have turned into smoking havens for all. Not a pretty sight. Is it any wonder that the overworked staff of doctors, nurses and cleaners lacks the patience and time to tend properly to the tasks in hand? The head of department, Dr. Mizoitsky, shakes his head in sadness as he speaks of cutbacks and difficulties in dealing efficiently with the workload. He did try to give assurance by speaking of the many letters of appreciation and thanks he has on file. Such tributes are indeed displayed on the corridor walls, but the latest dates on those displayed are in 2005. There do exist wards that operate under less pressure and thus function more efficiently; however there is no doubt that hospital authorities must consider the situation and apply pressure on the Ministry of Health for additional staff and funding where required, thus allowing departments to operate less like marketplaces and more like venues of treatment and healing.