As the circumstances of Saturday night's fire at the Ginat Hazahav nursing home in Bnei Brak become clearer, what emerges is a wanton disregard for human life.
The old-age home, where 17 people were injured, was operating without a business license and without a permit from the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, and had received a serious complaint from the Health Ministry. Despite this, the municipality allowed the home - which was in such a state of neglect that it posed a risk to the elderly people living there - to continue operating, even as the facility undermined their lives, honor and welfare.
An interministerial committee that examined what is needed to prevent and treat the abuse, exploitation and neglect of the elderly, issued its recommendations in 2002, and focused on the need to increase enforcement of the relevant regulations. In most western countries, there is a whole system of laws in this field, backed up by enforcement, treatment and welfare services. In Israel, meanwhile, there has been a worrisome erosion of the safety net for the elderly.
The committee had suggested building a safe house framework, free counseling and legal services, a hotline, a national steering committee, activities that empower the elderly, and a broadening of the services delivered to them by the state. However, these recommendations were never implemented.
There is serious neglect in some nursing facilities. There are many reasons for this neglect, but the primary one is the cut made in 2008 to the budgets for nursing-home care, which left the state paying only NIS 320 per day per patient to each institution. Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen ordered that low allocation canceled, saying, "This fee is totally unreasonable and doesn't allow for respectable care for the patients."
In 2008, the state comptroller also weighed in on the matter, finding that in the previous year there had been 49 nursing-care institutions operating without licenses or supervision, in conditions "that don't meet the minimal living conditions required."
Last August, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman presented a comprehensive reform plan for nursing-care insurance. Between the dormitory supervision regulations and the Law for Prevention of Abuse of Minors and the Helpless, it seems there are enough enforcement tools to close failing institutions and punish the scofflaws who manage them. We need better enforcement; the abandonment of the elderly reflects very poorly on any society.
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