How Israel Is Handling the Nursing Home Crisis

By Shlomo Maital

In the novel coronavirus pandemic, nursing homes have been a disaster, with many tragedies. This is just one terrible example, in New Jersey:

           “29 Dead at One Nursing Home From the Virus. Or More. No One Will Say.] By Monday, the police in a small New Jersey town had gotten an anonymous tip about a body being stored in a shed outside one of the state’s largest nursing homes. When the police arrived, the corpse had been removed from the shed, but they discovered 17 bodies piled inside the nursing home in a small morgue intended to hold no more than four people.   “They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring,” said Eric C. Danielson, the police chief in Andover, a small township in Sussex County, the state’s northernmost county.

  In Israel, too there have been nursing home tragedies. Family are banned from visits; and caregivers bring in the virus and the elderly are afflicted.

     After several such scandals, Israel has taken action. A former Director-General of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Ronnie Gamzu, now head of a large Israeli hospital, was asked by the Ministry of Health to shape a comprehensive plan for protecting Israel’s nursing home residents. His 100 page document is revealing.

     It calls for 600 Home Front soldiers to monitor entry to the homes. Notice that a former Health Ministry senior official does not trust the Ministry itself to handle the problem, but instead appeals to the Army. And those 600 can be increased to 1,000, if needed. Many in Israel believe that the overall management of the pandemic should have been placed in the hands of an interdisciplinary team led and run by the Israel Defense Forces.

     Nursing homes are vulnerable. The elderly in them need caregivers. And the caregivers need the work, because they are poorly paid. So, you cannot quarantine or exclude the caregivers, despite the risk. Testing every single one is a possible answer, but you would need to do this very often – Caregiver A could be ‘clean’ today, but infected tomorrow.

   Better late than never? Hard to say that, when it comes to the elderly, many of whom survived the Holocaust. Let us protect and care for them properly, and not make excuses.