Ichilov, new hospital - Reuters 9.03.2011
The new underground emergency hospital at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. Photo by Reuters
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Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv yesterday unveiled the largest bomb-proof emergency facility in the country, which includes a four-story structure embedded underground and ensconced in a new building that bears the name of billionaire Sammy Ofer.

The building is designed to hold between 700 and 1,000 hospital beds in case of an emergency. When not under attack, the multi-level underground structure will serve as a short-term parking lot for patients.

The new facility measures 56,000 square meters, with 13 floors above ground four underground. It was built at an estimated cost of $110 million. Ofer donated $45 million to the endeavor.

The facility, which provides protection against conventional, chemical, and biological attack, has also been fitted with water pipes, oxygen, electricity, ventilation, and enough fuel for generators to last one week if cut off from the external power grid.

An even larger emergency hospital is currently being constructed at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. It is likely to boast of a capacity of 1,500 hospital beds that would serve residents of the north.

Ichilov officials have already prepared contingencies for emergency situations, whereby patients hospitalized at the new facility will only be allowed one family member to remain at the bedside. Hospital officials will put in force strict measures to ensure that the facility is not inundated with people seeking a bomb shelter.

President Shimon Peres was on hand to unveil the facility during a ceremony yesterday. The Ofer building will hold internal medicine departments, cardiology units, and other departments that will be assigned to handle heart problems, blood supplies and testing, and brain trauma.

The internal medicine units that are currently housed in the old building at Ichilov will be transferred to the new facility within two weeks. Ichilov officials are also making preparations to open a new internal medicine unit - the 10th in the entire hospital - that will include 36 beds.

The Health Ministry has yet to sign off on the opening of the new department, but approval is likely to become official, especially after the government last week decided on the gradual addition of 960 hospital beds over the next six years.

Planning for the new structure began over a decade ago. Construction began in February 2008, shortly after Ofer announced that he was donating $77 million to Ichilov, Rambam, and Soroka Hospitals. The large infusion of cash expedited the bomb-proofing of the facilities, which was given greater importance following the Second Lebanon War.

Hospitals in the poorer, outlying areas in the country have much greater difficulty in soliciting donations on that scale. Thus, they are forced to make do with limited state resources needed to improve their facilities.

"We are private donors," Sami Ofer's son, Eyal, said during a tour of the building for journalists yesterday. "The one who decides whether to donate is Sami. We view this mission as sacrosanct."

"Yes, we, as a hospital in the center of the country have a greater ability to solicit donations," said Ichilov director Gabi Barbash. "But these donations allow the Health Ministry to give preference to building new facilities in the outlying areas, like Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon." (For more coverage, see Head to Head on page 7 )