The largest emergency treatment facility in Israel was launched yesterday on the grounds of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. The four-level underground complex, located in a new building named for Sammy Ofer, can make 700 to 1,000 hospital beds available for emergency use within 48 hours by transforming levels normally used for parking into hospitalization wards.
These areas have separate water, oxygen, electricity and ventilation systems, along with fuel facilities to operate generators. This enables up to a week of independent operation while cut off from the outside and provides protection from conventional, chemical and biological weapons.
Ichilov has already made preparations to operate during an emergency. The procedures it drafted enable each hospitalized patient have just one relative at his bedside, in order to ensure that the hospital does not turn into a public shelter during emergencies.
The 17-floor Sammy Ofer building covers 56 square meters and cost an estimated $110 million. It was designed by architect Arad Sharon - grandson of the late Israel Prize laureate Arieh Sharon, who designed the old Ichilov building - with passages that resemble blood vessels and spacious hospitalization areas with two patients per room.
On the occasion of the building's dedication yesterday afternoon, Ichilov director Prof. Gabriel Barbash spoke about the ambitious venture and also responded to criticism of the large donations the Tel Aviv hospital received, even as hospitals in the periphery are desperate for funds to invest in basic infrastructure.
Prof. Barbash, why is it that only the centrally located hospitals receive sizable donations and grand buildings?
"Our hospital's location at the heart of Israel's business world indeed gives us more options to raise money, but these donations allowed the government of Israel to invest more funds in hospitals in the periphery, such as [Ashkelon's] Barzilai Hospital. Construction of the new building was made possible by Sammy Ofer's $77 million donation to Ichilov Hospital, Rambam Medical Center [in Haifa] and Soroka Medical Center [in Be'er Sheva], of which $45 million was for the construction of this building. But this money enabled the government to invest [only] NIS 32 million in the emergency hospital and send additional funds to the periphery. Since the Second Lebanon War, the government's investment in building emergency-use hospitals has been greater in the periphery than it has been in the center.
"Moreover, 60 percent of the patients in our elective surgery wards are not from Tel Aviv. Our hospital also treats many residents of the periphery who require complicated operations and choose to come to the center and receive treatment here, though that is of course not a reason not to invest in the periphery. Our expertise as a hospital that treats patients with more complicated situations also enables us to reach more donors."
How did you raise the money to build the hospital?
"The cost of the new building is $110 million. Sammy Ofer donated $45 million; I raised $25 million from my friends abroad; Israeli businesspeople donated $15 million, among them Nochi Dankner, Eliezer Fishman, David Goldfarb and Rami Unger, as well as the Claims Conference; $10 million came from government funding and the rest from other sources.
"It is important to recall that a relationship with a donor does not begin a week before the donation and does not end immediately afterward. This is not a short process. Rather, it is an ongoing relationship over the course of years or even longer."
Some criticize your close ties to businesspeople - which, among other things, also helps you fund-raise. Do you see anything wrong with this connection?
"In my view, I invest too little in these contacts. I almost never travel abroad to visit donors. So in my opinion, the criticism is incorrect.
"Today the role of every hospital director - throughout the Western world, not just in Israel - is to be in contact with businesspeople and fund-raise for his organization. There is not a single hospital in the West today that lives solely on its income from treating patients. We require donations, and this is a known, recognized, accepted and respectable practice."
How are you preparing to run the new building?
"The new building will have two internal medicine wards and the hospital's cardiology complex, including departments and units for treating the heart, blood vessels and brain. The internal medicine wards now operating in the old Ichilov will relocate to the new tower soon, after we receive final approval from the fire department.
"Later, Ichilov plans to develop a new internal medicine ward, the hospital's tenth, that will have 36 beds. That is meant to help resolve the situation of patients hospitalized in the corridors of the internal medicine wards. The Health Ministry is expected to approve this as part of the cabinet decision to increase the [overall] number of hospital beds.
"This is the first venture on this scale in Israel. The new building's wards were designed to hold just two patients per room, as is standard in Western countries. There are also oxygen facilities in the corridors in the event that patients spill out of the rooms into the corridors."
Is the investment in design likely to contribute to improving patients' medical condition?
"All I can say is that in my opinion, it is more pleasant to be treated and to offer treatment in a more spacious environment that is pleasing to the eye. And in my view, we have an obligation to create the best possible conditions for both patients and staff. A building such as this contributes to the quality of life of people whose entire world during the time they are here consists of their room and their ward. The additional cost of turning a simple building into a nice one is marginal and worth every shekel."
And beyond the investment in design, will there also be an improvement in the service provided to patients?
"We are constantly trying to improve the service, and it does not come at the expense of the hospital's appearance. It is easier to invest in the building than it is to invest in service, and the struggle to achieve better service is a long struggle that takes many years to inculcate in an organization. But we are trying to do that as well. If we had more doctors and nurses, it would be easier for us to provide good service, because they wouldn't have to run around between patients."
What next? After all the projects you furthered, has the development plan been completed or will Ichilov Hospital expand further?
"The hospital's master plan from years ago included the current tower and two other towers that have not yet been built. At the moment we are on the way to another tower for staff housing, and that will be the next project. Just as certain other hospitals, like [Sheba Medical Center in] Tel Hashomer, have the possibility of providing staff housing on the hospital premises, it is also important to us to invest in housing that will enable the staff to be available immediately, primarily nurses and young doctors.
"In addition, a new rehabilitation ward has started operating with limited capacity over the last few weeks, after Prof. Avital Fast returned to Israel after years of working as head of the rehabilitation department at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. In the past, the hospital focused on geriatric rehabilitation, and now we have also opened up beds for general and youth rehabilitation."