The elderly deserve a chance at rehab - opinion

Finally, older Israeli adults are getting their rightful opportunity at rehabilitation.

 WHEN SHE was approached to apply to direct the nursing services at the new Bayit Balev hospital in Rishon Lezion, it was hard to turn down, says the writer. (Bayit Balev) (photo credit: BAYIT BALEV)
WHEN SHE was approached to apply to direct the nursing services at the new Bayit Balev hospital in Rishon Lezion, it was hard to turn down, says the writer. (Bayit Balev)
(photo credit: BAYIT BALEV)

At the age of twelve, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. At twenty-two, I became a registered nurse. Just over twenty years later, as the director of nursing, together with a professional and dedicated team, I opened a new hospital. Yes, a whole hospital. It has undoubtedly been the highlight of my professional career to date.

And not just any hospital, but a rehabilitation hospital having more than 400 beds, whose primary clientele are older adults: Bayit Balev in Rishon Lezion.

As a geriatric nurse practitioner, I am blessed with a vocation that fulfills me on a daily basis. My role has three focuses centered on the older adult: improving the quality of care when they require medical care, finding complex solutions that will insure a better quality of life and improving all round nursing care in Israel.

When I returned to Israel eight years ago from a long sabbatical in Sydney, Australia, I was shocked to discover the lack of rehabilitation resources available in Israel. It was even more shocking to discover the lack of such resources available to the older adult.

Working in the community in Jerusalem, I discovered that we often did not rehabilitate our elderly at all, that functional decline was considered to be a normal part of aging and that rehabilitation was reserved for the lucky few with the knowledge that it was possible. Who had the resources to pay for it or the family to fight hard for it. One of the best kept secrets in Israel is that every citizen has a right to rehabilitation regardless of their age.

Elderly hand (illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY)Elderly hand (illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY)

SYDNEY WAS a rehabilitation utopia. It was not a privilege but a right and everyone was given a trial of rehabilitation. While working for a public hospital in Sydney, my elderly clients would receive rehabilitation as an inpatient, followed by more at home and then more in the community, all under the auspices of the public health service. 

This rehabilitation period would last for up to a year. Regardless of age, the focus was on providing the older adult the best possible chance of regaining a good quality of life.

In my eight years working in Israel since my return, I have seen an improvement in the rehabilitation services. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC( Israel and the Health Ministry have facilitated the opening of community-based rehabilitation centers across the country, the health funds have widened their in-house rehabilitation services in the community and rehabilitation facilities have opened in the north and the south of the country where the lack of services is at its worst. But we are a long way from meeting the true rehabilitation needs of the country.

When I was approached late last year to apply to direct the nursing services at the new Bayit Balev hospital in Rishon Lezion, it was hard to turn down. A community nurse at heart, I believe that the older adult is better off at home and that hospitals are the last resort. But the challenge of running a new hospital, with over 100 rehabilitation beds for the older adult – and the chance to make a real difference – was too good an opportunity to refuse.

Bayit Balev

BAYIT BALEV, like my hospital in Sydney, provides rehabilitation in the hospital, at home and in the hospital’s day rehabilitation unit, the only facility in the country that provides the full extent of such care. The new hospital has a hydrotherapy pool and provides the full gamut of rehabilitation care including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, social work, dietetics, psychology and nursing, as well as geriatric and rehabilitation medicine. 

A subsidiary of Maccabi Health Services, Bayit Balev is a large network of geriatric hospitals and independent living facilities that provide essential medical and social services for the older adult in Israel: from the Krayot in the North to Eilat in the South. The rehabilitation facility in Rishon Lezion is its flagship hospital and its largest facility to date.

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate to meet hundreds of Bayit Balev staff from all over Israel, who came together to assist in the preparation of the hospital for licensing and opening. I was astounded by the camaraderie and teamwork displayed and by the dedication of my new colleagues who all have a common goal. Incredibly, I have yet to come across one English speaker and feel a bit of a fish out of water with my Australian Hebrew and my terrible accent.

Today, I feel like the proud owner of a hospital, one where the elderly can have public care in a five-star-hotel-style facility, where the equipment is state of the art and the care is person-centered and from the heart. Since opening we have been inundated with referrals and we are doing our best to admit as many people as possible.

Finally, I feel like older Israeli adults are getting their rightful opportunity at rehabilitation.

The writer is an Australian-born geriatric nurse practitioner and is director of nursing at Bayit Balev, Rishon Lezion.