Home Front Command ordered to help nursing homes with coronavirus

The decision, anticipated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, comes on the backdrop of a widespread crisis within the homes.

An elderly woman sits in the recreation room of a retirement home as visits have been restricted due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns in Grevenbroich (photo credit: REUTERS)
An elderly woman sits in the recreation room of a retirement home as visits have been restricted due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns in Grevenbroich
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Home Front Command has officially been instructed to help handle the coronavirus outbreak in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Channel 12 reported Sunday after obtaining an internal document sent by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The decision, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, comes against the backdrop of a widespread crisis. At least 11 of the 49 people who have succumbed to the virus in Israel were infected in such facilities, including six at Mishan in Beersheba and four at Migdal Nofim in Jerusalem.
The tasks assigned to the Home Front Command are primarily logistical.
Soldiers will take care of delivering food and aid supplies, conduct activities for staff members’ children and distribute protective equipment. In accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, they also might conduct tests on both staff and residents, carry out disinfecting operations and check the temperature and symptoms of anyone entering the facilities.
According to the report, the Health Ministry will maintain general responsibility for nursing homes.
The government’s decision was criticized by the Association of Nursing Homes and Assisted Living in Israel, which represents some 300 facilities across the country. According to the association, there are about 45,000 residents and 22,000 staff members living and working in senior facilities in Israel.
Its chairman, Roney Ozeri, described the move as “spin by the Health Ministry.”
“In practice, it does not give the Defense Ministry the full responsibility and tools to assist the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the main thing they need: corona testing,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “There are not enough tests available, as the Health Ministry itself admits, so the criteria for performing them have been toughened. This has created a delusional situation where the management of the facilities is asked to decide whom to test on behalf of the Health Ministry.”
OC Home Front Command Brig.-Gen. Itzik Bar on Saturday said his soldiers might not be the best solution to the nursing-home crisis.
“They belong to the Welfare and Health ministries,” he told Ynet. “We do not have nurses... I do not know how to manage a nursing home.”
Ozeri criticized the way the ministry has been handling the emergency.
“We are not receiving answers from the Health Ministry on how to deal with the coronavirus crisis,” he said. “All managers of the facilities say the government, especially the Health Ministry, are not responding to their calls to conduct tests comprehensively for residents and workers.”
They all ask that tests be performed immediately in structures where a first case is discovered and in all the others within 10 days, he said.
Beside Migdal Nofim and Mishan, outbreaks of the virus have been reported in other facilities around the country.
Five residents and two members of the staff of the nursing home Freemasons Elderly Residence in Nahariya were diagnosed with the virus, Walla reported on Friday. The facility is home to 41 residents ages 70 to 100 in different conditions.
“We have a very serious problem of manpower,” the facility’s director, Mickey Siag, told Walla. Fourteen out of the 32 people who work there had to enter home quarantine, and some of the rest are afraid to go to work, also because they work in other facilities and are worried that they will carry the infection, he said.  
“I’ve run this place for two decades,” Siag said. “We went through wars with the elderly; we went through missile attacks; we went through everything. We could never fathom that something like this could happen.”
Fourteen residents and eight staff members were said to be ill in Bat Yam’s Beit Halev rehabilitation center after a first case was discovered at the beginning of last week, Israel Hayom reported.
A new front line also opened at the Mishan facility in Holon. Even though two residents and two staff members were diagnosed with the virus, the facility did not order its 500 residents to isolate in their rooms, and they were still meeting each other and even eating meals in the dining hall, Ynet reported on Saturday.
The facility’s management told the residents’ families a decision to implement a full lockdown has to be taken by the Health Ministry because that would require a different logistical organization. The families are demanding that the Health Ministry step in.
At Mishan in Beersheba, 26 residents and 14 staff members were sick, Walla reported Saturday.
Omri Cohen, CEO of the Mishan network, which has nine affiliated facilities, has called on the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help.  
“I am crying tonight for the cry of the elderly and nursing homes throughout Israel,” he said.
“The situation of the residents in the facilities is a minute ahead of the situation in Bnei Brak, and we have to do everything so that assisted-living homes will not become a worse version of Bnei Brak,” Cohen said.
A heart-breaking message to the authorities and the public was sent out by 89-year-old Mishan Beersheba resident Esther Halili, who recorded a video on her Facebook page.
“Why has our request to be tested that we made already a week ago not been addressed yet?” she asked Saturday night. “From the moment this happened, they should have been obligated to provide us with the necessary testing. Why do we have to beg for our lives?
“We are not Knesset members or of the prime minister’s family. But we are still human beings, and we are scared for our lives. We deserve to live and not to die.”
Some relatives of elderly people who died from COVID-19 while under the care of the Mishan Home for the Elderly in Beersheba are preparing to sue the Health Ministry and Mishan for negligence, Channel 12 reported Sunday morning. 
Mishan told Channel 12 it is following Health Ministry guidelines.
Lack of protective equipment is another problem, according to nursing facilities.
Protective and disinfectant equipment for the facilities as mandated by the Health Ministry was too basic and not comparable to what was done for hospitals and clinics, Ozeri said.
“What can be found on the private market is five times more expensive than normal price in the days preceding the outbreak of the virus, which creates an unimaginable economic burden on institutions,” he said.
The shortage of personnel due to people entering isolation is also a challenge in a sector that was already facing this issue before the crisis began, Ozeri said.
It is crucial that the government stops treating the issue of nursing homes like a game of hot potato, he said, adding that until someone takes full responsibility for the issue, more lives will be lost.
“We require the Prime Minister's personal intervention,” Ozeri told the Post.

Jerusalem Post Staff and Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.