String of Doctors' Suicides Sparks Probe in Southern Israeli Hospital

Dr. Doron Moskowitz, an intern at Soroka Medical Center in the city of Be'er Sheva, was the fourth doctor to take his own life on Saturday night

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Interns at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.
Interns at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced the appointment of a public committee to examine a string of doctors' suicides at the Soroka Medical Center in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva on Sunday. This comes after the fourth doctor within a year and a half committed suicide on Saturday night.

The committee is tasked with proposing a plan for handling the emotional distress of members of the medical staff.

“To our regret, this is a familiar phenomenon in the health system in Israel and worldwide, and we hope that the entire system will improve the methods of intervention as a result of the committee’s work,” a statement released by Litzman and the Clalit Health Services organization, who are responsible for the hospital, said. 

The committee will be headed by former Jerusalem District Court Judge Nava Ben-Or, and will include Prof. Gil Saltzman, chairman of the National Council for Suicide Prevention and director of the Geha Mental Health Center, and the chief psychologist of the Health Ministry, Gabi Peretz. The committee will begin to work in the coming days in full cooperation with the Soroka administration, Clalit Health Services and the Health Ministry.

On Saturday night, Soroka reported the suicide of the fourth doctor, an intern at the hospital, and noted, “The hospital administration is convening an urgent discussion in the wake of the tragic incidents and will announce its steps.” On Sunday, the hospital said that in the past year it operated “an assistance program to locate depression that is likely to lead to suicidal tendencies, on the backdrop of international findings indicating that members of the health system are more exposed to suicide relative to the general population.”

The program, according to the hospital, includes “increasing awareness of suicidal tendencies and preventive actions in whose context the workers are given easy, convenient and discreet access to therapy professionals.” They added, “The percentage of suicides among doctors is higher than that of any other profession.”

Dr. Shlomi Kodesh, director of Soroka, said on Sunday: “We are aware of the fact that members of the health system are more exposed to danger in this area. It is also known that medical staffs refrain from asking for help because of the stigma of these illnesses. Therefore, we have put many internal processes into operation in the hospital, whose purpose is to increase awareness, involvement and locating cases of depression. The subject is a top priority for me.”

The first of the four doctors committed suicide in July 2018. He was Dr. Alex Berezovsky, director of the Plastic Surgery Department. Since then, Dr. Avi Shimoni, director of the Cardiac Intensive Care Department, and Dr. Mark Preiskol, a radiologist, died, and the latest doctor to commit suicide was Dr. Doron Moskowitz. Both Preiskol and Moskowitz underwent psychiatric evaluation and were treated in the months preceding their deaths.

The chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Prof. Zion Hagay, wrote to doctors on Sunday: “The last doctors’ agreement considerably improved the number of residents who came to Soroka, but that’s not enough!” The chair of the residents’ organization Mirsham, Dr. Rey Biton, said: “We’ve been warning about the catastrophe at Soroka for quite some time. The handwriting was on the wall. We’re getting a glimpse here of the collapsing health system. To say that there’s no connection between the incidents is absurd.”

According to the Health Ministry, between 2000 and 2016, 50 doctors in Israel committed suicide – 41 men and nine women, from one to four per year. The percentage of suicides among male doctors in Israel is 13.4 per 100,000, and among female doctors 4.3 per 100,000. Ten of the doctors who committed suicide immigrated from the former Soviet Union and three immigrated from other countries.

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