Overwhelmed by COVID, Israel's hospitals cut back on surgeries

Medical centers in northern Israel treating a large number of COVID patients say that lack of doctors and anesthesiologists, with some moved to dedicated wards or in quarantine, has left them with no other choice

Adir Yanko|
An increasing number of Israel's hospitals are postponing scheduled elective surgeries as coronavirus admissions continue to surge across the country.
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  • On Tuesday, coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash told ministers that dedicated 19 COVID-wards are at an average capacity of 77%, with most patients being located in hospitals in the north and Jerusalem.
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    מחלקת טיפול נמרץ קורונה בבית החולים איכילוב
    מחלקת טיפול נמרץ קורונה בבית החולים איכילוב
    A coronavirus ward at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital
    (Photo: TPS)
    While most medical centers in central Israel have not reported any upset to their day to day activity, Haifa's Rambam Health Care Campus, the biggest hospital in northern Israel, announced it would limit its activity to four elective operating theaters, a drop of 17% in the center's elective medical activity.
    Rambam's coronavirus unit is currently at 64% capacity.
    "We have 57 coronavirus patients, with eight on ventilators and 22 in serious condition," says Dr. Ziv Rosenbaum, chief executive officer for Emek Medical Center in Afula, whose two dedicated wards are at 68% capacity.
    "It is a serious rise in patients. We are planning to open a third coronavirus ward if morbidity continues to rise," he says.
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    מחלקת קורונה ברמב"ם חיפה
    מחלקת קורונה ברמב"ם חיפה
    The parking lot at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa has been converted into an underground coronavirus ward
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Rosenbaum says that the hospital will be forced to limit its surgeries since many of its staff, mainly anesthesiologists, are in quarantine.
    "As of now, nine out of 10 theaters are still operational," he says. "If we have to open a third dedicated coronavirus ward, we will have to significantly limit our elective medical activity, mainly surgeries."
    A surge in patients is also visible at Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, where hospital officials have also announced a halt to some surgeries.
    "The moment we took anesthesiologists from operation rooms and put them at coronavirus wards - we were left with no choice but to minimize the number of surgeries," says hospital director Dr. Masad Barhoum.
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    Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya
    Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya
    Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya
    (Photo: Aviahu Shapira)
    "The operations we halted are only elective and can be arranged and performed quickly," he says.
    "It is not a comfortable situation, but this is reality and we hope to return to full capacity as soon as possible."
    Barhoum says that the medical center will start halting five to six operations per day, so that other departments can continue to operate as usual despite staff being in quarantine.
    "We have fewer doctors on internal wards because we moved many of them to coronavirus care. The surge in patients is enormous, meaning we have fewer doctors to treat patients," he says.
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