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Who Knew That a Stay in Eilat Was Life Threatening

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Helicopter evacuation of emergency cases.
Helicopter evacuation of emergency cases.

How fortunate that they’re closing Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport. Otherwise, how would we know about, and who would even be interested in, the helicopter evacuation of emergency cases from Eilat to a hospital where there is heart catheterization, brain catheterization, an advanced neonatal unit and other life-saving technologies, which don’t exist in Eilat’s Joseftal Hospital.

On Sunday Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding what is honestly quite a laughable sum, and which could save the lives of many people each year. With an initial investment of 5 million shekels ($1.4 million) and a regular investment of only 8 million shekels a year, there would be a helicopter on call 24/7 for the 200,000 residents of Eilat and the tourists who are there at any given moment, some of them totally unaware that there is no guaranteed availability of a helicopter for urgent medical evacuation in case of emergency.

I confess, I didn’t know until now that the only helicopter at the disposal of Eilat residents is a Magen David Adom emergency medical service helicopter, which is actually in an airfield near Be’er Sheva and is not always available. This helicopter usually lands in Kibbutz Yotvata rather than Eilat, and the patient has to be driven to Joseftal by ambulance, causing a loss of precious time.

Nor did I know that the reason why in 2016 there were only 14 helicopter evacuations from Eilat, while in 2019 the number is expected to exceed 100, is that at one time the evacuation took place in an Israel Defense Forces helicopter and the cost of every evacuation was 200,000 shekels, compared to 30,000 in the present helicopter. People weren’t flown by helicopter for the simple reason that there wasn’t enough money.

I never knew that living or vacationing in Eilat could be life threatening.

Eight million shekels a year – that’s a sum equal in value to a drug that is not at all expensive, designated for a not very large number of patients, which is included in the “health basket” in any given year. But there’s a great deal of media and public attention devoted to the drugs, and much less devoted to helicopter evacuation with life-saving potential. That’s the politics of health care.

How fortunate that now there’s a lot of brouhaha surrounding the evacuation of Sde Dov, because now Litzman’s letter will probably fall on attentive ears that want to sweeten the pill of closing Sde Dov for Eilat residents, and a helicopter landing pad will be built in Eilat and people’s lives will be saved. That is despite the fact that there is no connection between the helicopter evacuation of emergency cases and the subject of flying seriously ill patients from Eilat to Sde Dov and Ben-Gurion International Airport.

What can we learn from this story? That there is insufficient central planning of health care services in Israel, that often solutions to problems arrive only as a result of crises or events receiving substantial media exposure, and that in many instances the country’s outlying areas are far behind and in need of strengthening, government attention and special resources.

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