Winter Healthcare Crisis Grips Israeli Hospitals

By Aryeh Stern

A sheltered hospital ward at Ziv Medical Center in Tzfas, Jan. 11. (Ayal Margolin/FLASH90)

During this winter season, the healthcare system is grappling with severe overcrowding in hospitals due to a surge in winter illnesses, marking one of the toughest seasons on record. Across most internal departments, occupancy rates consistently exceed 90%, leading to prolonged wait times of over 30 hours for patients seeking beds in hospital departments, exacerbated by lengthy queues in triage rooms.

Reports indicate that internal department occupancy rates are surpassing 100%, with Hillel Yaffe Hospital reaching 128% and Beilinson Hospital at a staggering 138%. Meir, Soroka, Hadassah Ein Kerem, and Kaplan also face occupancy rates exceeding 100%.

Prof. Avishai Elis, chairman of the Israel Society of Internal Medicine, describes the current winter as exceptionally harsh, with a desperate situation characterized by substantial strain, crowded triage rooms, and seriously ill patients. He attributes the crisis to insufficient vaccination rates and questions the effectiveness of the vaccine against the prevailing strains, particularly influenza A.

The situation is likened to an epidemic resembling the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an overwhelming influx of patients. Prof. Elis emphasizes the lack of preparation for such a scenario, highlighting the absence of winter preparedness training and additional manpower for hospitals.

Dr. Hefzi Green, internal department manager at Kaplan, notes the differences from the previous year and highlights the unprecedented patient load. Patients experience prolonged waiting times in triage, surpassing 24 hours, due to the scarcity of beds, driven by a surge in respiratory illnesses, flu, and RSV. The impact of the ongoing war further compounds the issue, with beds occupied by war-wounded individuals and a shortage of staff serving in the reserves, leading to bottlenecks in internal departments.

The Health Ministry acknowledges the strain on hospitals during the winter season and outlines measures to alleviate the burden, including diverting patient arrivals as needed and implementing additional shifts for nurses in the emergency rooms. The ministry reassures that significant reinforcements of beds for internal departments have been allocated as part of ongoing winter preparations.

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