Coronavirus: Not enough ICU beds for those who need them, doctors say

“In order to open more beds for corona patients we had to cut the regular ones.”

Shaare Zedek coronavirus unit (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shaare Zedek coronavirus unit
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The 10 intensive care beds of the coronavirus ICU at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center have been fully occupied for a few weeks, and every day some five or six patients who should be in ICU remain in the regular ward because there is no room for them, said Dr. Philip Levin, director of the hospital’s General Intensive Care Unit.
With 1,779 individuals currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, the overload on the health system has been a major concern for authorities and experts. Levin and Dr. Howard Amital, currently supervising the five coronavirus departments at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, shared their concerns about numbers that they both describe as unprecedented and deeply worrisome, as well as the resilience and devotion of their staff to the care of patients.
Levin pointed out that even before the pandemic, it was not unusual for patients who would have been better off in the ICU to remain in regular wards because of a bed shortage in intensive care units. COVID-19 has aggravated the problem.
“In order to open up more beds for corona patients, we had to reduce the regular ones,” Levin said. “Now the regular wards are full, so we are sending patients to Tel Aviv and elsewhere, and discharging people as soon as we can. I think we have reached the limit of what we can do at the moment.”
People still receive treatment in regular wards, but the equipment is slightly different, and the level of supervision is lower. While in ICU a nurse takes care of two patients, in other departments each member of the staff has to look after many more.
Sick people from all over the country, including Jerusalem, are currently being evacuated to Sheba, which has no bed shortage, Amital said.
“We have around 130 patients, about 65% in severe condition,” Amital said. “Corona patients are complex. Our days are very very busy, we meet in the morning, we dress up, which takes time, we take care of the patients, some of whom are very unstable, and some receive palliative care because we know they are not going to make it.
“We deal mainly with the respiratory aspect of the disease, but sometimes we have patients who have not eaten or drunk in days, so we have to treat the basics. Unfortunately, we see a lot of tragic cases here. Not everyone survives.”
Both doctors described their staff as ready for the challenges, but also emphasized the difficulties they face.
“Our staff is mentally strong, but ... we have a lot of young physicians and nurses seeing people succumbing to the virus,” Amital stressed. “The number of dying patients is really overwhelming. We try to strengthen one another, and I won’t hesitate to call a psychologist to offer support. We talk about what we see, we try to overcome this difficult time together.”
 “At the beginning, we were very frightened,” Levin explained. “Now after receiving the vaccine we feel a little safer, also because we have seen that the protective gear works. However, the work is hard.”
The doctors also expressed dissatisfaction with how the country is dealing with the virus.
“I understand that the lockdown is hard on people, especially for those whose incomes are hurt,” Levin said. “On the other hand, I think that if people kept the safety measures properly – wearing masks, washing hands and keeping social distance – we would be in a better situation. It’s a little frustrating to walk on the streets and see people wearing their masks on their chins.”
Amital on the other hand emphasized that if the numbers are not going down in spite of the lockdown, it is because the restrictions are not properly enforced.
“At this time the government is not governing,” he said. “The Israeli health system is very strong, the quality of our people is amazing, it’s a pity that other systems are not as strong.”