Coronavirus: Israeli hospital allows families to say goodbye

"No one shall be allowed to die alone. In Ichilov, it will no longer happen and I believe that the rest of the world will follow our example, as it should."

Ichilov hospital and Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/GELLERJ)
Ichilov hospital and Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv.
Seventy-five year-old Simcha Ben Yishai, a resident of Ramat Gan, succumbed to the coronavirus on the first night of Pesach at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov). Contrary to what happened to the tens of thousands of victims of the disease all over the world, his daughter Elisheva Stern was able to pay him a last visit just a few hours before, thanks to a new policy implemented by the hospital that allows family members of dying COVID-19 patients to see them to bid farewell, marking a world first.
From China to Italy, from the US to Israel, the requirement for people succumbing to the virus to die alone, without a last goodbye by their loved ones, has emerged as one of the most horrific aspect of the catastrophic pandemic. For the past few months, heartbreaking stories of elderly people passing away by themselves – or of praiseworthy medical staff taking a moment from their overwhelming endeavors to allow family members to bid farewell on a last video call – have been carried by news outlets worldwide.
These stories had a deep impact on Avi Shushan, a spokesman and member of the board of Ichilov, as he explained to The Jerusalem Post.
“I’m the spokesperson of the hospital and I entered into the corona unit as a journalist,” he said. “After hearing all these horror stories, I started wondering why I could enter and relatives couldn’t. I told myself that this was not acceptable.”
At the first opportunity, Shushan raised the issue at a board meeting, asking the reasons behind the restriction and what could be done about it.
“Immediately, our CEO Prof. Ronni Gamzu told me that I was right and that the main problem was providing relatives with the appropriate protective equipment, masks and so on,” he recalled. “We felt changing the policy was the right thing to do and we immediately approved it.”
Within a few hours, the hospital issued a new protocol allowing family members of dying patients to visit them in person.
“In the past three weeks, five or six families have chosen to come and visit their loved ones to say goodbye,” Shushan added.
He explained that patients in critical conditions are all in intensive care and monitored closely. When doctors and nurses understand that they are going to pass away soon, they alert the relatives and offer them to visit. Before entering the ward, the families meet with a social worker from the hospital who explains the procedure and receive the protective equipment. Afterwards  they can get inside, up to two people at the same time for a maximum of ten minutes.
AMONG THOSE who took the opportunity were Safed residents Shira and Dror Maor, who went to bid farewell to Shira’s mother Segula Yanai, 81, who passed away on Saturday.
“I read her the Shema and some Psalms. I felt that despite the difficulties of seeing my mother-in-law in such conditions, I felt her presence and I believe she felt mine,” Dror said. “We are grateful to the management of Ichilov Hospital for the courageous step, efforts and human thoughtfulness that allowed us to part from our dearest of all in a respectful way.”
“Some people have chosen not to come for a last visit because they were too afraid of getting infected, but most do and are very appreciative, since they are also aware that we are the only hospital in the world where this is allowed,” Shushan told the Post. “I’m also happy that since we made the decision, other hospitals in Israel have started to look into it.”
Indeed on Tuesday, the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot announced that the daughter of a 100-year-old woman with pre-existing conditions who succumbed to the virus was allowed to see her mother before she passed away.
Asked if he believes that there is a risk for people visiting their loved ones, Shushan highlighted that doctors and nurses in the department are also in contact with the patients without getting infected, so there is no reason it would be different for the families.
“The coronavirus outbreak is all over the world. A lot of people, organizations and hospitals did not have the time and the mental space to think about how they wanted to deal with the crisis and the families affected. I’m happy that in Israel such a decision was made – and it is going out and changing the life and the mental wellbeing of many families,” he concluded.
"This is our moral duty as medical staff and as human beings,” Gamzu said. “No one shall be allowed to die alone. In Ichilov it will no longer happen – and I believe that the rest of the world will follow our example, as it should.”