Israeli doctors on Tuesday warned that reopening coronavirus wards will require most of a hospital’s resources, which could result in collapse of internal medicine units that will suffer from being understaffed and underfunded.
Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levi announced on Sunday he has instructed hospitals to prepare for reopening of departments dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the wake of the recent resurgence of the disease.
"We will refuse to hospitalize patients in departments if they are filled to 110% of its capacity," a statement released by the Israel Society of Internal Medicine said (ISIM).
Nearly one year after a committee appointed to determine the needs of internal wards released its findings, recommending a maximum of 38 patients per ward and an increase in staffing, no changes have been adopted.
Physicians warn that coronavirus wards would require the transfer of doctors and other medical personnel from the internal wards, causing an added burden on departments already stretched beyond capacity.
Dr. Avishai Ellis, who heads ISIM, said doctors are concerned over a potential influx of patients over the upcoming winter due to not only COVID-19, but the seasonal flu as well.
"We expect to see hospital beds in the corridors of our wards, with rooms filled to over 100% capacity," Ellis said, adding that internal medicine specialists will be those tasked with administering care to patients experiencing respiratory problems even though additional staffing provided so far has been sporadic and insufficient.
Professor Ehud Grossman, chief of an internal medicine ward at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, said a catastrophe is imminent. "I hope there is an equal distribution of patients among hospitals to ease the load," he said.
At the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, internal wards are already dealing with overcrowding, with some patients being treated in corridors even before the winter influx in patients.
"I don't know what we can do to make people understand how dire the situation is," said one doctor.
"Beyond the ethical question of treating patients in the hall, with no privacy, it is also inhumane and illogical to work this way," he added.
Doctors say the internal wards are being understaffed even more when doctors are exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases and required to quarantine.
The Health Ministry said in response that although additional staffing was provided to meet the needs of both, internal and coronavirus wards, more staffing is set to be allocated.