Garbage Overflows, Surgeries Delayed: Support Staff Strike in Hospitals Takes Its Toll

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Sheba Hospital during a doctors' strike in May.
Sheba Hospital during a doctors' strike in May.Credit: Hadas Frosch

Hospital floors were left unmopped, patients' bedsheets were unchanged and surgeries were deferred in hospitals across Israel as a strike by administrative and maintenance staff went into its second day on Wednesday.

The strike, which began on Tuesday over claims of lack of manpower and overwork in 30 government hospitals, has highlighted the importance of administrative staff, even if they go unnoticed by hospital patients and visitors. Most noticeable was the trash that has piled up a day into the strike, in a medical setting where hygiene and cleanliness can be so important.

The work stoppage also affected food services, meaning that patients and employees have not been provide food from hospital kitchens. Hospitals have been forced to outsource food services for patients to catering companies.

Orderlies were not available to transport patients. In some instances, hospital nurses and pharmacists have stepped in to wash floors. The striking personnel also includes grounds and landscaping staff and computer and engineering personnel.

In practice, all of the work performed by non-medical staff that is not deemed essential has ground to a halt. But hospital facilities such as emergency rooms, oncology departments, dialysis and maternity and premature baby care were functioning normally.

At the Shamir Medical Center (formerly Assaf Harofeh), there are reports that non-urgent surgery and outpatient procedures have been deferred. For its part, the hospital management issued a statement saying that it supports the administrative and maintenance staff’s demands, including a pay increase, but added that it “hopes that the sanctions will come to an end as quickly as possible to minimize the harm to patients." At the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, a gathering in support of the striking staff members was held.

In a letter, Dr. Zeev Feldman, who chairs the medical association representing government-employed physicians, expressed his organization’s support for the strike, saying that the strikers were left with no choice. “Your justified demands have been dragged along for three years, and your fight is all of ours. The health system requires administrative and maintenance staff just as it requires doctors,” he wrote.

The chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Arnon Bar-David, warned that if the Finance Ministry didn't find a solution to the demands of the administrative staff, "additional portions of the public sector and the health system will also strike” in support.

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