Patients Sleeping in Dining Rooms of Overcrowded J'lem Facilities

Psychiatric hospitals in Jerusalem are so overcrowded that some patients sleep in the dining room or the emergency room because there's nowhere else to put them, according to a recent report by the director of a mental health center.

Average occupancy in Kfar Shaul and another psychiatric facility, Eitanim, was 110 percent between January and June, a rise from 106 percent in 2007 and 2008, according to data recently received by the Health Ministry.

The occupancy rate went as high as 121 percent for some departments of Kfar Shaul, and 124 percent for some departments of Eitanim.

Prof. Leon Greenhaus, director of the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health, which includes Kfar Shaul and Eitanim, wrote in a report submitted to the association of psychiatric hospital directors that the conditions were unacceptable.

"Overcrowding is leading to patients staying on folding beds in the dining room, without any privacy whatsoever," wrote Greenhaus. "It's medically and professionally unacceptable that these conditions should exist in Israel."

Patients sleep in the dining room in Eitanim and the emergency room in Kfar Shaul, with some of the Kfar Shaul hospital rooms housing up to five patients, according to the Greenhaus report.

The overcrowding has become routine, say health center personnel.

"It's not temporary overload because of some outbreak - this is permanent, and it makes conditions at both hospitals insufferable," said a veteran staff member at Kfar Shaul.

Rachel Demarkado, who represents Kfar Shaul employees, said it was "inconceivable that patients and staff live, in 2010, in dampness, mustiness and overcrowded facilities."

"There is a growing number of work accidents and attacks by patients," she said. "The hospital looks worse than cages in a zoo." Two work accidents were reported in the Kfar Shaul hospital last month, with one nurse sustaining hand fractures and another a tailbone fracture. In 2008 a 20-year-old patient suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder tried to slash the throat of another nurse with a kitchen knife.

The Health Ministry said there has been an increase in mental health center hospitalizations recently.

"We've recently witnessed a rise in hospital bed use in the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health," the ministry said in a statement. "However, we must remember there are 90 more beds available for psychiatric hospitalization at the Herzog and Hadassah hospitals, and the ministry is looking into utilizing those facilities. We hope that permits for construction of a new building at Kfar Shaul are issued by the end of the month. As for Eitanim, NIS 17 million have been invested in upgrading the buildings at the hospital since 2000."

Construction of a 100-bed building to house the Kfar Shaul hospital began 15 years ago, but has been suspended due to protests by ultra-Orthodox residents in nearby Har Nof. Today the hospital is located in buildings that used to be part of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, the site of a massacre by the Irgun and Lehi militias shortly before the start of the War of Independence.

New construction plans were submitted to the Health Ministry six years ago, and the project has been held up at the Israel Land Administration and Jerusalem municipality since then.

Earlier this month, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said he was considering making Kfar Shaul a men-only institution and Eitanim an all-women facility. Mental health staff oppose the move.