Lily Bekerman - Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Lily Bekerman, head ER nurse at Barzilai Medical Center, says overcrowding has harmed health care. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkowitz
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What's the occupancy rate at Barzilai these days?

The internal-medicine departments are full, as normal; there are 58 to 60 patients in a department, while the normal figure is just 35 patients. The emergency room was calm this morning, maybe because people heard about the strike action and decided not to come. But by the afternoon, we admitted 106 patients.

How has this winter been?

This winter has been very crowded, but the crowding is an accumulated phenomenon. The population is aging and life spans are longer, which creates new medical needs .... So we have ever more patients who have complex needs, and it takes time to treat them in the emergency room, until we decide where to move them. Our emergency room is clearly small, with just 18 stations, and there were days this winter when we admitted 300 or even 360 patients.

Has the crowding in hospitals harmed health care?

Unfortunately, yes; I believe that some patients have been harmed because there is crowding and pressure, and everyone is nervous and shouting. It's hard for doctors and nurses to concentrate on their work .... We try to ensure that [health care] isn't harmed, but I'm sure that here and there some patients are harmed. I'm surprised that there isn't confusion in providing medication, because patients are always being moved - the system is to move patients around to the next empty bed. If a patient goes for an X-ray, he or she is liable to return to a different bed.

I'm always worried that there will be mess-ups in medical treatment [because of crowding] .... Paramedics stand with stretchers outside the emergency room with patients, and we have nowhere for them to lie down.

How does this crowding affect nurses?

The situation is tiring and nurses get worn down. There is a shortage of staff doctors and nurses, so those who work do so under pressure. According to forecasts, there will be a shortage of nurses in another few years, and today there is already a shortage of doctors .... So fewer people go off to study these professions.

What do you tell patients?

We explain that we work under crowded conditions; patients are irritable, angry and complain. We don't have time to relate to each patient as we would like to and as we have been trained. There isn't time to listen to patients and their problems because there's always a need to go from one patient to the next. We try to give the best care, but the results are not what we want. Some situations end in violence.

What's your message to senior health officials?

They must sit down, solve the crisis and plan ahead. They should have done that a while ago - not today or tomorrow. The current situation can't continue, and I hope the decisions that will be reached will improve the hospitals.

But I'm not very optimistic. The current situation is a disgrace, and it reflects our society in many ways. In many spheres in Israel, the norm is to wait until a situation becomes drastic before anything gets done. In these cases, it would be better to plan ahead. We knew that things would reach this point this winter; we knew there would be flu cases. It's a pity we reached the current state, which forces us to find solutions for a state of emergency.