Dozens of angry family members of a patient who had just died at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital rioted for nearly 10 minutes on Monday, assaulting medical workers, destroying equipment and breaking doors and windows.
On Thursday, physicians in public hospitals and clinics operated by health maintenance organizations will strike for 24 hours in response, starting at 7 A.M.
According to medical staff at the hospital, the attack could have been predicted. They say the patient, who was known to belong to a family with a history of violence, was transferred to Hadassah from a Palestinian hospital in the city, because employees there feared the reaction of family members to his treatment.
He was admitted to the hospital in critical condition, apparently after a drug overdose, and was resuscitated, but his condition remained serious. He was declared dead a few hours later, on Monday evening. The doctor who treated him said he dreaded telling the man's family, and asked hospital security to call for police support, but hospital employees say the guards refused and said they could handle the situation.
The attack began immediately after the family was informed of the death. The doctor was beaten and threatened by two family members who held a piece of broken glass to his neck, while other workers fled leaving the man's relatives to riot in the corridors. One employee said the incident continued for nine and a half minutes, until police officers arrived.
The assailants belong to a Palestinian family from East Jerusalem, but hospital staff said their attack was not anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish, and noted that one of the physicians they assaulted is Palestinian.
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Hadassah Medical Center has denounced the attack and expressed support for hospital staff. "We call on the government and the health care system to take decisive action against the lawbreakers who violate the sense of security of the medical teams and the patients alike and harm the very people who champion the principles of compassion and love for humanity," a statement issued on behalf of the chair of the Hadassah International Israel Board of Trustees, former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik.
But hospital employees, speaking to Haaretz on the condition of anonymity, say they feel the hospital management and security team don't treat their complaints with the seriousness they deserve. "Security is always trying to calm [us] and asking us to ignore, we do not feel support from either the management or the security," says a medical staff member. "That way things will end more nicely or maybe the security guards themselves are afraid of the patients."
Hadassah hospital stated that it would investigate "all aspects of the difficult event that took place this week and will draw internal and external organizational conclusions accordingly."
During the strike Thursday, hospitals will operate on a weekend schedule, while in every city one health clinic will operate.
Physicians in public service – those working in schools, local Health Ministry offices, government ministries and other institutions, including in administrative positions, will also strike.
In addition, there will be protests at Hadassah University Hospital at Mt. Scopus at 9 A.M., Shaare Zedek Medical Center at 9:30 A.M. and a rally of solidarity at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer at 11 A.M.
All emergency services, including emergency dialysis, ICU and neonatal ICU, emergency rooms, maternity wards and cancer treatment, will operate normally. The strike will also make exceptions for procedures that cannot be postponed, IVF treatments in the community and late-pregnancy ultrasounds. An exceptions committee will be established to consider applications for additional procedures.
The Israel Medical Association is demanding a police presence in all emergency rooms, heightened security in hospitals and community health clinics and for legislation making the punishment for assaults on medical workers equivalent to that of assaults on uniformed police officers.
“Our medical teams cannot and should not have to contend with bullying and violence. A nurse engaged in saving lives is not a police officer and should not have to fear being hit,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said. He added that he has asked the attorney general to see to it that offenders are punished to the full extent of the law, and said that at the next weekly cabinet meeting he will demand police posts in hospitals.