1,000 Israeli Patients Unnecessarily Kept in Psychiatric Wards to Be Sent to Hostels

'We have patients who have been in the ward for 20 or 25 years. For them to go into the outside world and have contact with the community will improve their situation'

File photo: A doctor walks through the psychiatric ward Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, January 10, 2016.
David Bachar

The Israeli Health Ministry plans to release about 1,000 patients who have been unnecessarily hospitalized in psychiatric wards and transfer them to residential community treatment centers. Of these, around 400 will be released this year.

The ministry will soon solicit bids to operate seven residential treatment centers that will absorb these 400 patients. Later, it will solicit bids to open additional centers for the other 600.

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The patients in question have been in long-term psychiatric hospitalization not because it’s medically necessary or beneficial, but simply because there were no suitable community treatment centers available.

The ministry’s new policy reflects changes in the psychiatric community’s approach to the mentally ill. The ministry hopes the patients’ release will encourage the general public to be more accepting of the mentally ill and not shun them.

A state comptroller’s report published last May found that about a third of all patients in psychiatric wards, about 1,200, have been hospitalized unnecessarily due to the lack of community treatment facilities that could provide them with suitable housing. These patients don’t function at a high enough level to live in existing hostels.

The new residential centers, known as “rehabilitative communities,” will house about 60 patients each. Half will live in the main building and half in surrounding apartments, which will house four to five patients each.

The centers will try to teach the patients basic life skills and integrate them into the community. Unlike existing hostels, professional staffers will be there to help the patients around the clock.

“We have patients who have been in the ward for 20 or 25 years,” said Prof. Hilik Levkovitz, director of the Be’er Yaakov-Nes Tziona Mental Health Center. “These aren’t just elderly patients; there are also relatively young patients who have been here more than 10 years.”

He said these patients generally have trouble with basic life skills and are very afraid of leaving the hospital. But he welcomed the ministry’s new plan.

“A hospital isn’t a home,” he said. “For these patients to go into the outside world and have contact with the community will improve their situation.”

In other Western countries, similar treatment facilities generally rely on apartments only, with no central residence, for fear that a centralized residence would stigmatize the patients as “crazy.” But a central residence has significant operating advantages, since it can house more people, provide space for residents’ activities and accommodate more staff.