‘We want to give them the best’

Despite the war with Hamas, the South is expanding services, with plans for new rehabilitation facilities to enliven the neglected region.

In the Tel Aviv region, there are 0.22 rehabilitation beds per 1,000 people; in the Jerusalem region, 0.09 beds; yet in the Negev, there are none. (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO)
In the Tel Aviv region, there are 0.22 rehabilitation beds per 1,000 people; in the Jerusalem region, 0.09 beds; yet in the Negev, there are none.
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO)
It was less than a year ago that Dr. Nitza Hei - man-Neumann’s life was turned upside-down.
A senior pediatric surgeon and deputy director of Soroka University Medical Center, Heiman-Neumann’s 17-year-old son, Gil, was buried on February 21. Gil had collapsed several months earlier from a brain hemorrhage, spending several months in a coma at Sheba Medical Center’s rehabilitative ward in Tel Hashomer; sadly, he never woke up.
The family remained at Gil’s bedside 24 hours a day, Heiman-Neumann said, waiting, praying for him to wake up. With the family home in Beersheba, the dis - tance from southern to central Israel was difficult to overcome; however, there was no quality rehabilitation hospital in the entire Negev that could have offered the care Gil required.
While Gil’s battle is over, Heiman-Neumann is continuing to fight for other families like her own, who are torn between their home and family in the Negev and the ward in the Center where their loved one is hospitalized.
“The Negev area was neglected,” Heiman-Neumann said. “We have to build it block by block.”
Fortunately, Heiman-Neumann is not alone. While she and her colleagues are working to create a 36-bed acute care rehabilitation ward at Soroka University Medical Center to open in 2017, leaders at ALEH Negev – Na - halat Eran, a rehabilitation village for disabled children and adults, are working to build a facility that will pro - vide patients needing long-term rehabilitation with a place in the South to mend. According to Masada Sekely, director of ALEH Negev, the southern region is expected to be home to 1 million people within the next 20 years.
“It is very necessary that we open this center,” said Se - kely, projecting it could launch as early as this time next year.
“The most important thing when it comes to rehabilitation is to be surrounded by family, by support. Most people in the South cannot afford to send a member of their family away and then travel, sometimes hours, to be with him while he is rehabilitated in central Israel over an extended period of time. We want to solve that problem,” said Dr. Eytan Hyam, who has been hired to head ALEH Negev’s rehabilitation project, which has been approved by the Health Ministry.
According to a June report published by the University of British Columbia, contributing factors to stable recovery are existing resources such as being integrated into social networks and work, and having stable relationships with friends and family. Quality care and community support are critical to long-term success.
The move to bring rehabilitation facilities to the South is long overdue, according to Hyam. Currently, there are 723 beds available for rehabilitative care in Israeli hospitals. In the Tel Aviv region, there are 0.22 beds per 1,000 people; in the Jerusalem region, 0.09 beds; yet in the Negev, there are none. The average stay of a patient in a rehabilitation hospital is 38.5 days; as a result, the beds in the rest of Israel are always full and, according to a recent report, functioning at a capacity of 108 percent.
Hyam and Sekely said they are working closely with Heiman-Neumann: “In the Negev, you must do every - thing together,” explained Sekely. The goal is to first establish the wing at ALEH Negev, then the Soroka acute care facility. ALEH Negev will serve as a key referral hub for Soroka, as patients transition from the first phases of rehabilitative care to a long-term stay, freeing up acute care beds. With the move of several top IDF bases and soldiers to the area, and on-and-off escalations with Hamas in the South, the need for these beds will continue to grow.
Sekely said the ALEH rehabilitation wing will be not only unique to Israel, but the world at large, as it will be able to utilize some of the support staff and services dedicated to its developmentally disabled patients for those undergoing rehabilitative treatment. She explained,  “ALEH is not a hospital, it is a home,” and all staff are trained to be patient and work with a smile. This can do wonders not only for the typical ALEH resident, but for people whose lives may be greatly altered when they leave the rehabilitation center, perhaps missing a limb or paralyzed.
“There is a good chance the person will go home with a disability. We can help them not only with the physical rehabilitation, but also the emotional part,” Sekely said.
ALEH Negev – Nahalat Eran was founded by military hero Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog and named for his own disabled son, Eran, who died in 2007. A village in every sense of the word, the facility is home to over 100 young people, who are encouraged to develop a greater degree of independence in order to become productive members of Israeli society. It provides a continuum of residential care for children with severe disabilities as they grow from adolescents into young adults, and empowers them to interact with the outside world, develop a greater degree of independence and live quality lives while realizing their full potential. Eran was the facility’s first resident; Almog continues to serve as chairman.
When asked whether the team felt concerned, given recent escalations in the area, that the hospital might not be secure or that people would move away from the South, they said they felt nothing of the sort. Hyam described ALEH Negev as a “paradise in the Middle East,” where one can see rich and poor, ultra-Orthodox and secular, Beduin and even patients from Jordan being treated under one roof.
“When you arrive at the village, everyone is equal. The tears of an Arab mother are the same tears as those of a Jewish mother,” said Hyam, noting that while Hamas aims to destroy, “Israelis rebuild with love.”
Moreover, ALEH Negev and Soroka Medical Center are working closely with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to train a new cohort of nurses and doctors able to handle rehabilitation patients. The hope, said Hyam, is that the new ALEH Negev wing will increase employment opportunities in the South and be a catalyst for improved retention of BGU graduates in southern Israel.
“We believe the people of the South deserve what the people of central Israel get – and even more,” said Hyam.
“We want to give them the best.”
Added Heiman-Neumann: “We have chosen life... You should fight for life every moment you can. This is how I continue, this is how I am taking action for our community.”