MKs Demand Action on Nursing-Home Abuses

An elderly man walks down a street in Yerushalayim. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Recent exposés by Channel Two and Yediot Achronot on care issues and problems in geriatric nursing homes led the Knesset this week to conduct hearings on the state of the homes. The hearing was held at the Knesset Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee, chaired by MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), who said that the testimony at the session was “very difficult to absorb. It indicates that we have lost several basic and important principles that should be natural for us.”

The exposés, using hidden cameras, collected footage of elderly patients of the facility living in squalor. Residents were forced to spend numerous days without a shower, food was old and rancid, dishes and pots went unwashed, and residents went days without anyone coming to check on them. Disease, injury and suffering were common, and hundreds of complaints lodged with government agencies went unanswered.

No one should be treated in this manner, said Alalouf, from both a moral and legal point of view – but unfortunately, both were failing Israelis in this instance. “The weakest population, the one that cannot defend itself, is the one that society needs to defend the most,” Alalouf said. “The government owes these people that assistance, which should come in the form of state-sponsored homes. Instead, we have divested government from this task, and placed it in the hands of private entrepreneurs.”

MK David Amsalem (Likud) said that a big part of the problem was that the ill elderly were being warehoused in the institutions, hundreds of which had treatment issues. “There are not enough workers for home care, and this contributes to the problem,” he said. “Some 5,000 workers are needed for these jobs, and the shortage means that many workers are on the job 16 and 17 hours a day. Each ministry believes that someone else will be taking care of this issue, so nothing gets done.”

Amsalem called for legislation to make it easier to bring in foreign workers to work in elderly care, especially from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the two major sources of these workers in Israel. Alalouf pledged to propose legislation for this.

The problem – and the need – is set to get worse, said Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, Director General of the Health Ministry. “Israel’s population is aging, and a national plan to help the country deal with the growth of the elderly population is necessary,” he said. “Currently, there is no such plan.”