A Ghanaian man who has lived in Israel for 14 years reported on Wednesday that he was forced to wait for a doctor for his sick baby while locked in a room at Dana Children's Hospital in Tel Aviv.
Isaac Asiedeu's story of being locked in at the children's hospital, in Ichilov Hospital, with his feverish, vomiting son is only one of the complaints received by the Hotline for Migrant Workers since Ichilov decided earlier this week to separate migrant and refugee patients from Israeli patients.
The hotline is threatening to bring Ichilov's management to court, and the Health Ministry, which owns the hospital, said it was reviewing the legality of the hospital's new policy.
The instructions were issued by Ichilov director Prof. Gabi Barbash, apparently spurred by concern over recent incidents of tuberculosis among migrant patients. Under the new rules, all migrants and refugees admitted to the hospital must have a chest X-ray, the majority are not allowed into the hospital to visit patients, and in maternity wards, nurseries and neonatal units as well as children's wards they are separated from other patients.
Attorney Asaf Weitzen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers sent a letter to Barbash saying that under the Patients' Rights Act of 1996 these policies constituted criminal discrimination. "Separating patients of African origin from other patients is a criminal violation and a civil wrong, and you can be sued for it personally," Weitzen said. "Separation insults the patients and their families, and there can be no justification for it ... If there's a medical situation that requires a special medical approach it's expected that the Health Ministry and the hospital take steps to deal with it within the confines of the law," he wrote.
Asiedeu, who was granted resident status in Israel five years ago, was confronted with the new Ichilov policies on Tuesday night when he brought his nine-month-old son to be seen at the hospital. He had been referred there by the Tel Aviv District Health Office, where the baby was examined and found to be having difficulty breathing. Accompanying them to the hospital were his wife and their 21-month-old son. When they entered the hospital, after the baby's details were recorded, a nurse wearing a face mask brought them face masks to wear, and took the four of them to an isolated room to await a doctor.
"I told her that we had no serious illnesses in the family, and we don't have HIV or hepatitis, but the nurse said that by law we had to be isolated." She then locked the door and left them inside.
After an hour two doctors came to examine the baby, "covered in plastic, even their eyes were hard to make out, as if he had some kind of deadly bacteria like Ebola," Asiedeu said. They took blood from the baby and left the room, leaving the door unlocked.
After hours had passed and no one came back with blood test results, Asiedeu went to the nurses station and discovered the results had come back long before. "The nurse refused to give me the results and ordered me back to the room. I said I wanted to know what my son had, and she threatened to call security.
"At that point I lost it and said this was racist," Asiedeu said.
It turned out the blood tests were normal, and the family was sent home. "It's clear to me that the treatment I got was only due to the color of my skin," said Asiedeu.
Ichilov Hospital responded: "Hospital management is examining attorney Weitzen's letter and will respond as appropriate. The hospital has taken a series of steps to protect the public from exposure to infectious diseases. As we start to implement the new procedures it is certainly possible that there will be mess-ups and we hope to prevent them in the future."
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