The hospital heralding Haifa’s comeback

When war threatens, it is not only the IDF that galvanizes it troops. It is also Israel’s hospitals, whose staff know too well the tragedies of tension and terror.

Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/RAMBAM MEDICAL CENTER)
Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center
This week, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired a barrage of rockets at southern Israel.
Last month, Israel’s military was put on high alert amid heightened tensions along the northern border.
When war threatens, it is not only the IDF that galvanizes it troops. It is also Israel’s hospitals, whose staff know too well the tragedies of tension and terror.
In the North, the only tertiary medical and level-1 trauma center is Rambam Hospital.
Rambam is the referral hospital for the northern region. It is faced with ensuring real-time preparedness when rockets fall and Israel’s soldiers and civilians are at risk.
This year, the hospital is celebrating 80 years of service to the region.
Rambam was founded in 1938 by British Mandate forces preparing for war in Europe. The then-22- bed hospital was designed by noted Bauhaus architect Erich Mendelsohn on the shores of Haifa Bay, which was considered the primary anchor in the Middle East and the global economy at the time.
With the founding of the Jewish state, Rambam came under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government.
Within its first decades, it was forced – and stood up to – innumerable challenges: war, immigrant absorption, disease and rapid population growth. Ultimately, these tests propelled the hospital forward. Today, Rambam is a 1,000-bed facility and the largest referral hub in the area, serving more than a dozen smaller medical centers. Its emergency room doctors treat between 120,000 and 130,000 people annually, including one-third of the Israel’s severe trauma patients.
“Our soldiers rely on us,” said Rambam director-general Rafi Beyar. “Our civilians rely on us.”
For those outside of northern Israel, however, Haifa – and Rambam Hospital with it – gradually became overshadowed. The Haifa Bay was surpassed by the Ashdod Port and the city lost the dominant status it held during the British Mandate. Though graduates of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and their research are said to have paved the way for the rapid expansion of Israel’s high-tech industries, all eyes turned toward the nation’s center as the hub of the Start-Up Nation.
But, according to Beyar, eyes are once again on Haifa – and if they are not, they should be.
In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, some 60 rockets fell within a two-mile radius of Rambam Hospital. The staff continued to operate as usual under this fire, but Beyar, who had been appointed only months earlier, spearheaded efforts to ensure the hospital, its staff and patients would not be put at such risk in the future.
In 2014, Rambam opened the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital, a three-level 1,500-vehicle parking garage that within 48 hours can be transformed into a 2,000-bed fully functioning facility with surgical stations and support systems.
According to Rambam’s Dr. Erez Carmon, the facility was designed based on lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War, and it is now the world’s largest and most sophisticated underground medical facility. Each year, hundreds of medical professionals come to visit the underground hospital to learn and train.
Carmon, who oversees the facility, said Rambam’s own hospital staff train regularly for emergencies, writing plans and practicing what could easily become real-life scenarios of war and trauma. In the event of another barrage of Hezbollah rockets on the North, Rambam is equipped to handle all the area’s dialysis patients and delivery of babies.
IF NORTHERN Israel is the target of a chemical or biological attack, Rambam can fully seal its building and operate at status quo for up to 72 hours.
But it is not just Rambam’s physical infrastructure that can stand the test of war. The hospital is an incubator of coexistence and a model of unity in diversity in both times of war and peace.
Dr. Aziz Darawshe, head of Rambam’s emergency medicine department, is an Arab Israeli. He described northern Israel as among the country’s most multifaceted communities and Rambam as the meeting ground for the area’s Jews, Druse, Christians, Muslims, immigrants, religious and secular constituents.
Around 30% of Rambam’s medical team and patients are Arab. And even among the Arabs, there are secular and religious Arabs as well as Christian and Muslim Arabs.
“It doesn’t matter if the [United States] embassy moved to Jerusalem, and it doesn’t matter what religion is listed on your identity card or how you voted in the last election,” said Darawshe. “We have to work together no matter what is going on outside the hospital.”
But the staff does more than “work together shoulder-to-shoulder,” as Beyar explained. They see each other as a community and even a family.
“Doctors could have more influence and impact than politicians,” said Darawshe, who called on other industries to look at what goes on at Rambam and learn a lesson in integration and collaboration. “We close cultural gaps. I believe Rambam Hospital is a conduit for peace.”
Now, Rambam is transferring some of that spirit of collaboration into its medical innovation. The Helmsley Health Discovery Tower is being built in the center of the Rambam campus, where science, innovation and clinical medicine will converge for the transformation of healthcare in Israel and the benefit of humanity.
The 20-floor integrative tower for research and innovation will house Rambam clinical centers, members of the University of Haifa life sciences faculty, medical engineering teams from the Technion, and a group of start-up companies. The idea, explained Beyar, is that these scientists, physicians, engineers – and their research and other work – will come together to forge new and more innovative ideas.
The tower will piggyback on Rambam’s already deep cooperation with the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport School of Medicine, through which doctors and scientists are involved in joint, multidisciplinary basic and clinical research in the fields of hematology, cancer, human molecular genetics, cardiovascular medicine, stem cells, clinical brain research, diabetes, metabolism and more.
Rambam also has extensive activity in translating discoveries and innovative ideas of its clinical research physicians to the corporate sector, including developing and promoting innovations into applicable projects and protecting and commercializing intellectual property.
Rambam is named for Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides), a medieval Sephardi philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. He also wrote 10 medical works in Arabic.
Maimonides bridged the worlds of science, religion and philosophy and Jewish and Arab culture. Rambam Hospital, like its namesake, is building a bridge between those of different backgrounds, religions, and languages, and between science, technology and health.
This could ultimately be the secret sauce to another 70 years of Start-Up Nation success.
Said Beyar, “We have to work together, share ideas, cross the hall into each other’s labs and patient clinics. This is the concept of the future, and ultimately,