Olmert seeks urgent cure for ailing hospitals

After deaths of up to 200 from Klebsiella infections, PM pledges to 'find a solution.'

olmert hands 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert hands 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, Health Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli and other senior officials in his Tel Aviv office Thursday night to discuss the virulent Klebsiella pneumonia infections in hospitals that have killed an estimated 120 to 200 already severely ill patients in recent months. As many as 400 people may have been infected, Ben-Yizri told Channel 2 Thursday night. Olmert, a former health minister, promised to "investigate the matter and to find a solution" to the shortage of manpower, inadequate infrastructure and overcrowding of general hospitals that increases the risk of nosocomial (hospital-based) infections. The prime minister backed up the ministry in its handling of the affair. But ministry officials insisted that the bacterium is only one of half-a-dozen strains of bacteria that were no longer overcome by antibiotics, and the story is not new. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a worldwide phenomenon and far from unique to Israel, they said. Visitors, staffers and most hospital patients are not endangered by the outbreaks - only people who are already have very weak immune systems and multiple diseases are at risk, they said. The Health Ministry has a long-term plan to build three more hospitals, adding 900 beds, and to expand the number of beds in existing hospitals for 3,000 more. This will alleviate crowding and improve sanitary conditions in hospitals. Although this plan was not discussed with Olmert, Ben-Yizri hopes to bring it to the cabinet for approval in the near future - even though the Finance Ministry strongly opposes it and says there is no need for more beds. Ben-Yizri met at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on Thursday with the heads of some of the hospitals who reiterated that they needed improved infrastructure and more manpower. They stressed the need to educate hospital staffers to disinfect their hands and for doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections needlessly. They agreed that the phenomenon was not new and had been sensationalized by some of the media, causing some panic among the public. Yisraeli told The Jerusalem Post that manpower shortages were the main problem, and "we are working on it." He did not say how many more nurses were needed. He also said it was impossible to know at this stage how many seriously ill patients have died from virulent bacteria. Meanwhile, Prof. Renata Reisfeld, a leading inorganic chemist and expert on optics and glass at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Post Thursday that a few years ago, she presented to then-health minister Dan Naveh an idea to paint all hospital walls with a special paint containing a semiconductor that releases oxidants when exposed to fluorescent light. These oxidants are like bleach, killing pathogens on the walls and in the air, but are not harmful like bleach. She said such paint is routinely used on the walls of Japanese hospitals. She said Naveh showed interest, but that "nobody got back to me. They said it was expensive, even though the paint is not, and dropped it." Informed about Reisfeld's proposal, Yisraeli said he would be happy to hear more about the paint and "anything that can contribute to a reduction in nosocomial diseases. I'd be glad to look into it."