Israeli Hospital's Garbage Elevators Used to Transport Patients, Medical Equipment

Patients at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva exposed to contamination, especially those suffering from a weakened immune system

An empty ward at Beilinson Hospital, Rabin Medical Center, Petah Tikva
Benjamin Adam

Patients and medical teams at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva use service elevators intended for garbage removal, because the regular elevators are either overloaded or out of order, Haaretz has found.

Transporting patients in the garbage elevators to the wards exposes them to contamination, especially those suffering from a weakened immune system or open skin diseases, or those attached to a catheter or other invasive medical equipment.

The patients are taken down a long corridor from the hospital’s emergency room to the service area, where only administrative staff are allowed. This area is intended for transporting food, laundry and garbage in four elevators, each designated for a specific use. The one on the left is marked as an “elevator for transporting garbage.”

“We were taken through the long corridor to the elevator,” said a relative of a cancer patient who was brought to the hospital last week with a serious infection and was transported from the emergency room to an internal medicine ward.

“It looked and smelled like the area behind restaurants. Next to us were two or three garbage containers and it smelled like garbage,” he said. “We got into a filthy elevator and asked the janitor if that was the only way to get to the ward. He said there was no other way.”

The hospital’s emergency room has six elevators for visitors and patients who are able to walk. It is forbidden to use these elevators to transport hospital beds to the wards. But a hospital worker said the garbage elevator is routinely used to carry patients and medical equipment as well as medical teams, especially when the nearby elevators for transporting patients are overloaded or broken.

He said using the garbage elevators saves walking a long way to the patients’ elevators in other parts of the medical center.

On the day Haaretz visited the hospital this week, nurses carrying thermometers and blood-pressure monitors, which are used on numerous patients, entered the garbage elevator, in which there was a full garbage container on wheels. The people in the elevator held their noses to block out the smell.

“This is improper. It’s not a matter of directives but common sense,” an infection specialist not from the hospital told Haaretz. “The force and amount of germs a person carries is negligible compared to what there is in a garbage bag. A garbage bag with food remnants touched by people, situated for a few hours at room temperature and humidity is just what the germs need to develop.”

“The germs spill out, of course, when part of the garbage drips. The potential risk in the garbage elevator is much greater than in a people’s elevator,” he said.

The Rabin Medical Center (Beilinson and Hasharon hospitals) said in response: “The hospital’s management takes a grim view of the described goings on. It’s a deviation from procedure. The directives will be issued again and enforced to avoid such occurrences in the future.”

The hospital said it has six elevators for visitors only, to prevent patients’ exposure to contamination. The hospital is also in the process of integrating a pneumatic garbage disposal system that doesn’t use elevators, it said.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that it was surprised by Haaretz’s query, as in periodical inspections the ministry’s people had never seen the garbage elevator used for anything else. Following Haaretz’s query, the ministry said it asked Beilinson for their response to the event.

“The garbage disposal elevators are meant for garbage alone, that’s how they were planned and the hospitals’ management knows this,” the ministry said.