A third of Israel’s nurses are afraid to go to work due to coronavirus

“Israeli nurses are very disturbed by their personal risk and fear infection,” said bioethics and health law professor Daniel Sperling.

A NURSE WEARS a mask in the Coronavirus Unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
A NURSE WEARS a mask in the Coronavirus Unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
A third (29%) of Israeli nurses are afraid to go to work because they think they could contract coronavirus, according to a new study from the University of Haifa. The study also showed that 33% of nurses considered their work to be “high risk” or “very high risk,” and that 41% were afraid to treat coronavirus patients.
The results of the study, led by Bioethics and Health Law Prof. Daniel Sperling, will be published soon in the peer-reviewed journal Nursing Ethics.
“Israeli nurses are very disturbed by their personal risk and fear infection,” Sperling said, noting they are especially worried about infecting their relatives. “However, they show strong dedication and sense of mission.”
Sperling also examined issues related to the ethical dilemmas that could arise if Israel’s hospitals become overcrowded and lack the medical resources to treat all patients in the optimal way, such as with mechanical ventilation. The study found that when nurses were asked what is the maximum age you would treat a patient if the system was lacking resources, the average maximum age was 84, which is an extremely high age in comparison to the policies of other countries.
In Italy, for example, when the health system became overpowered and had to choose who to treat, doctors prioritized younger patients.
A remarkably high percentage of the Israeli respondents even thought that there should be no age limit at all. It was also found that 81% of nurses believe that all patients have the right to receive optimal care regardless of their age and health background.
Although until now, Israel has been able to treat all patients, there is fear in the medical community that come winter when the public suffers from a combination of seasonal flu and coronavirus, it may overwhelm the system.
As of Friday, the Health Ministry reported there were 764 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals. Laniado Hospital reported that its coronavirus unit was at more than 100% capacity and most other major hospitals were reporting to be between 80% and 98% capacity.
Sperling said that coronavirus has caused increased tension in hospitals, just as during any pandemic. Factors include the rapid spread of the disease, the enormous efforts being made to diagnose carriers, the frequent changes in treatment protocols and the increased demand on medical staff.
Moreover, he said that lack of resources, including personal protective equipment, and long and strenuous shifts exacerbate the challenge.
“The combination of these conditions… can lead to stressful situations, a tendency to leave the profession, and [can] harm the mental well-being of nursing workers,” Sperling warned.
In open-ended questions, Sperling said he learned of the nurses’ frustration, including about how they were being managed and the lack of empathy for the difficulties of wearing masks and protective gear all day. One nurse said that wearing a mask all day gave her headaches and that “when you are dying to breathe clean air and get out of this suit, you fail to function properly.”
Sperling told The Jerusalem Post that many nurses expressed feeling exploited and that their rights are sometimes violated, and that they don't receive wages appropriate for people who are putting themselves at risk. He said one nurse wrote in the questionnaire, "They treat us like manpower not like men."
Nonetheless, some 75% of nurses said they feel they do not have the right to refuse to treat certain patients. Sperling added that the nurses show a “strong desire to provide care to patients,” and that they “do not regret their work in the health system.”
"Despite the high-volume of fear and personal risk perception, they don't think they have any right to reject treating generally or even specific patients, which is very remarkable," Sperling told the Post. "They see it like a military duty - and I am not sure you find this in other societies."  
The study was conducted between April and May 2020, with 231 nurses being surveyed.