Overall, Israel gets high marks for its health-care system. Its national health insurance is affordable and covers most specialists and most medicines. It provides coverage to elderly immigrants who arrive with pre-existing conditions, including those who come from countries where rare and complex diseases are relatively common.
But its public hospitals are an abysmal failure. Every year at this time we read the same heart-rending stories of sick patients being placed in corridors because of overcrowding. Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer has 300 percent occupancy, Kaplan in Rechovot has 180 percent, Bnei Tzion in Haifa has 200 percent, Schneider’s Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikvah has 127 percent, Hillel Yaffe in Chadera has 145 percent, and on and on.
Ostensibly, the culprit is flu season. People with respiratory and other issues are flooding the emergency rooms and hospitals. Not only are there not enough beds, there aren’t enough doctors or nurses.
One elderly woman, Frida, who waited eight hours in the emergency room at Sheba, decided Monday to give up and go home. “I prefer to go to a private doctor,” she told Channel Two news. “I’ll be more at peace. This is intolerable.”
Doctors say that the problem isn’t just quantity, but quality. Since people know that they’ll have to wait so long in the hospital — as much as 10 to 20 hours — they hold off on coming for care. By the time they finally show up, they’re in much worse shape and in need of more intensive care.
But let us be clear. The problem isn’t the flu season. The problem is mismanagement of government resources. Flu comes every year and it’s intolerable that the Health Ministry accepts the fact that thousands of sick people will regularly be subjected to intolerably long lines and the indignity of being left in corridors or dining rooms because there is no space on the ward.
It’s impossible to calculate how many lives have been jeopardized or even lost because people either stay home or arrive at the hospitals too late. It’s impossible to know how many people have been misdiagnosed by doctors who are overworked.
As expected, the politicians are seizing on the suffering for political gain. MK Yael German of the Kadima party, who was health minister until the government collapsed in December, self-righteously intones that Israeli hospitals are more overcrowded than those in any other Western country.
“The overcrowdedness in the emergency rooms and on the floors every winter is a catastrophe that is known ahead of time,” she says. “In a mild winter, it’s difficult; in a rough winter, it’s intolerable.”
Where was she for the past two years, when she was health minister and her party’s chairman, Yair Lapid, was finance minister? They had the political clout and the wherewithal to do something about the problem, but instead she focused her energies on setting up commissions of one kind or another (the bureaucrat’s favorite way to appear active, but do nothing).
German’s predecessor, on the other hand, United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, was known for pushing construction of emergency rooms, bringing MRIs and other sophisticated diagnostic equipment to the periphery of the country, and making surprise visits at hospitals at all hours of the day and night to see how they functioned.
Unfortunately, the revolution he began has been halted and the price is being paid now — but not by everyone.
As usual, the “haves” have options. They can go to private hospitals and pay for the top specialists who aren’t falling off their feet in fatigue. But the middle and lower classes are stuck.
What fuels the problem is the lack of outrage in the secular media. Instead of turning the health-care crisis into a campaign issue, forcing the candidates to address the question of how they would solve the problem and what priority they would give it, the media is focusing on nonsense.
The burning issues are how much the prime minister spends on food and drink in his official and private residence, and who is funding the opposition effort to unseat Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The issues that matter — poverty, the cost of living, education and social benefits for all, including chareidim, war and peace — have been relegated to the back pages of the newspapers. Gossip sells; real issues don’t.
As maaminim bnei maaminim, we don’t put our faith in hospitals. Our tefillos are for ourselves and for all of Klal Yisrael: may everyone be granted a refuah sheleimah. But at the same time, hishtadlus requires that we demand that the politicians stop this insanity whereby every year thousands of patients must endure the indignity of mistreatment, at a time when they are most vulnerable.