Nursing homes emerge as front line in fight against coronavirus

The danger presented by structures with a large number of people at risk began to be evident when, this month, several residents and members of staff of Migdal Nofim were diagnosed with the virus

Assisted living facility Migdal Nofim in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Assisted living facility Migdal Nofim in Jerusalem
Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are emerging as a front line in the fight against coronavirus in Israel. The growing number of infected residents has created an emergency situation.
Two residents each of such facilities have been diagnosed with the virus in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Beersheba and one each in Gedera and Rishon Lezion, Channel 13 reported. Most cases occurred when residents returned to a nursing home or assisted-living facility after being hospitalized and not tested for the virus. In the past week, four such residents succumbed to the disease, the report said.
According to the Welfare Ministry, there are 148 nursing homes and 93 assisted-living facilities in Israel. The most recent data by the Central Bureau of Statistics show there are some 1,100,000 people over the age of 65 in the country, but about 97% live in private households.
This means, as in many other Western countries, most Israelis who move to assisted-care facilities, especially nursing homes, only do so when they are too sick or frail to be left at home, Prof. Sharon Shiovitz-Ezra of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Social Work School told The Jerusalem Post. Therefore, this population is susceptible to serious consequences from contracting the disease.
“The numbers of the crisis that we are currently seeing are dramatic,” she said. “There is a need for a better organization and for a higher level of attention.”
In facilities where residents might need help getting dressed or washed, it is harder for individuals to keep the recommended distance from one another, and staff members are at risk of infecting or being infected, Shiovitz-Ezra said.
“The Health Ministry needs to take responsibility,” she said. “This population needs to be the focus of its activities.”
The danger presented by facilities with a large number of people who belong to this high-risk group (elderly with preexisting conditions) became evident earlier this month, when several residents and staff members of Jerusalem’s Migdal Nofim nursing home were diagnosed with the virus after a social worker tested positive. Since then, the nursing home has suffered three deaths and 20 infected, Channel 12 reported.
After repeated requests, the Health Ministry agreed to test all residents who are still quarantined in their apartments, as well as the staff assisting them. Sunday night, the ministry reported that of 166 tests, 144 of residents and caretakers came out negative, one was awaiting the result, nine performed on staff members were negative, and 24 nurses were awaiting the results.
On Monday, Nofim director Rafi Pollack took part in the meeting of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee and described a critical situation, with the facility understaffed and lacking equipment.  
On Sunday, relatives of the residents of the Mishan nursing home in Beersheba staged a protest in front of the building. They demanded that their loved ones be tested after one of the facility’s residents died of COVID-19 on Friday and 11 out of the 17 people from the facility who were tested came out positive, including six residents, five of whom are hospitalized in critical condition.  
“They want to turn us in Jerusalem No. 2,” Morris Maman, whose mother lives in Mishan, told Walla. “Nobody is telling us anything. The situation is not clear. There are more sick people, and no one gives us answers.”
Meli Avioz, whose mother also lives in the nursing home, said: “They are deciding who will live and who will die. They should test everyone, not just some.”
Speaking to the Post’s Hebrew sister publication Maariv, Roney Ozeri, chairman of the Association of Nursing Homes and Assisted Living in Israel, which represents more than 200 facilities with a total of some 25,000 residents, accused the Health Ministry of producing “guidelines on guidelines” instead of solutions. He requested that it procure protective equipment for nursing-home staff after the ministry instructed personnel to wear surgical masks on Sunday but did not provide them.
Testing and not enough equipment were among the issues discussed in a meeting of the Knesset committee. There were “no satisfying explanations” about too many problems, committee chairman Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid) said in a statement after the end of the meeting.
“The committee has demanded that the Health Ministry immediately addresses these issues,” he said. “A dedicated, inclusive and competent team should be appointed to coordinate care for the elderly population. Nursing students should be recruited to supplement the manpower, and a different and broader testing policy should be instituted among people of this age.
“Caring for this population is what will determine whether we be successful in the struggle against coronavirus or, G-d forbid, we will fail in it.”