As I write, news from Israel could hardly be worse. The sabre-rattling on the country’s northern border foreshadows war and all that means for the people of Israel and for its healthcare system. Significant parts of that same healthcare system are being stretched to breaking point because of COVID-19. 

Hadassah’s ICU units are working at close to 160% of capacity and well over 100 of its health professionals have been required to self-isolate.  Despite that, every member of the hospital’s medical, administrative and support staff are working to mitigate the impact on its patients, and to reassure the family members that their loved ones are in good hands.

While the many declared and undeclared wars that Israel fought since its founding have impacted on its health infrastructure, its hospitals have always been prepared for the worst-case scenario.

This time, unfortunately, its hospitals were caught largely unprepared for a mass outbreak and one involving a highly-infectious disease with the capacity to kill. 

The first reported COVID-19 case at Hadassah occurred in early March. In the first phase of the pandemic, Israel was regarded as the ‘poster child’ of national responses.  Since mid-June, there has been a huge surge in community transmission with rolling averages of 1,800 new cases every day. At this moment, there are around 30,000 active cases and officials warn of 1,000 serious patients within weeks. Israel is now ranked sixth in the world for the number of COVID-19 cases per capita.

Hadassah has borne the brunt of a significant number of these COVID-19 patients. The new surge in cases has challenged Hadassah in unprecedented ways.  

We know that Hadassah will overcome these challenges. Resilience, optimism and self-belief have always been the hallmark of the average Israeli.  That same attitude applies to Hadassah. Not only is it the oldest westernised hospital in Israel, it is also the most community-focused with an outreach to disparate communities across the country.  Its footprint can be found everywhere and, increasingly, well beyond its borders, including Australia. It wears the tag ‘More than a hospital’ with a great deal of pride.

Under the leadership of Prof Ze’ev Rotstein, a seasoned and outspoken hospital administrator, Hadassah has galvanised its resources to meet the pandemic head on. 

Most recently, it has been involved in a trial program to place recovered patients as volunteers in COVID wards. This was undertaken because Israel’s medical facilities are understaffed, partly through the effects of the disease but also because of the lack of nurses to meet the OECD’s recommended target.

Even then, Hadassah has been participating in a remarkable program aimed at assisting young Ethiopian-Israelis to enter the nursing profession (see story this issue). Hadassah Australia has been an active and substantial donor to the Achotenu program. The fruits of this initiative are starting to show now, with the first cohort entering the wards of Hadassah facilities at Ein Kerem and Mt Scopus.

Among its other achievements in which Australians have provided financial support is the Goshen Project, a leader in early childhood development in Israel. This was initiated by Hadassah Australia and based on the work of Prof Frank Oberklaid of the Centre for Community Child Health in Melbourne.

Hadassah Australia has also been a supporter of the hospital’s work to address Disorders of Sexual Differentiation, a condition that is largely misunderstood in Palestinian society. Over the last three years, Hadassah has treated more than 20 boys and girls who have presented with a variety of complex conditions, most requiring surgical intervention.

Our support was instrumental in the founding of the Jerusalem Crisis Intervention Center in 2006. This important service offers a time-critical response to impacted children and their families in a city with the highest rate of youth trauma in the country. 

Hadassah’s willingness to engage with industry to develop innovative healthcare solutions was also front and centre this week. It follows the announcement that Hadassah medical researchers have partnered with engineers from SodaStream, an Israeli manufacturer of carbonated products for the domestic market, to produce a non-invasive respiratory device. StreamO2 is currently undergoing a clinic trial at Hadassah with the approval of the Ministry of Health.

Donating to Hadassah Hospital or these (and other) specific programs is not only about supporting one of the world’s leading tertiary health institutions.  It’s about building respect for Israel in a practical and measured way.  It’s also about helping to build relationships between Hadassah and Australian researchers for the benefit of mankind.   It’s also a meaningful way to show your support for a healthcare system under siege.

Ron Finkel AM
President, Hadassah Australia