Medical teams in North showing grit and grace [pg. 4]

Health Ministry feared workers would flee to the South, but they have risked their lives.

As Hizbullah's rocket barrages steadily intensified over the past few weeks, health officials thought they would have to ask the courts for restraining orders against hospital and health fund clinic personnel so they would not abandon their posts and go south to safer areas. But "most of them volunteered to stay, even though they are at risk and have to worry about their families and friends," Health Ministry deputy director-general Dr. Yitzhak Berlovich said. Medical workers throughout the North are displaying all kinds of heroics, in fact. "Rambam has always been a model for coexistence and teamwork of Jewish and Arab employees, but it has never been more obvious than now. I thought I knew what teamwork meant, but I have been amazed by the phenomenal efficiency and dedication of the staff - Jews and Arabs - in dealing with mass casualty events," said Prof. Karl Skorecki, a nephrologist at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center and director of the hospital's medical and research development. "The staff are under direct physical threat, as are most of their families, and rockets hit nearby. But staff attendance has been nearly 100 percent, including office staff, cleaning workers and paramedical workers." "We have created a sheltered area for staffers' children so parents worry about them less," he added. Prof. William Schecter, a senior University of California at San Francisco traumatologist who volunteers in Israel twice a year, happened to be in the country when the war broke out, and he has postponed his return home twice to operate at Ziv Hospital in Safed. "I am used to stabbings, beatings and shootings in California, and I have treated victims of suicide bombers in Jerusalem. But this is a new experience, with sirens going off all the time to alert us to rocket attacks. Yet we continue the surgery, even though operating theaters are not underground." Berlovich said the ministry and other health authorities prepared year-round for emergencies and mass catastrophes, "but this was the first time we had to transfer a whole psychiatric hospital - Mazra in the North - its patients and staff to Sha'are Menashe and Abarbanel Hospitals, beyond the reach of Hizbullah rockets." Western Galilee Government Hospital in Nahariya was fortunate, as it had a whole underground facility ready for use, said Berlovich, but in other hospitals, some patients and staff were moved to lower floors. "When the war is over, we will have to map out which hospitals need to be bolstered in the long term, with underground and fortified facilities. It will cost many dozens of millions of dollars and have to be all over Israel, because we don't know where the next war will break out."