New Medical Center in Sderot Slated to Lessen Regional Health-care Shortage

New project aims to combat a shortage of medical facilities outside the center of the country.

Construction on a new medical center in Sderot will begin in two months - aiming to alleviate a shortage of medical care in Israel's outlying areas.

Margalit Tirosh, a spokeswoman for Ezra Lemarpeh, the medical service organization sponsoring the new facility, said the organization's founder, Rabbi Avraham Firer, attached special importance to locating the center in Sderot in light of rocket attacks that the town suffered over many years from the Gaza Strip. Rockets are still fired at the region, although less frequently.

The new project aims to combat a shortage of medical facilities outside the center of the country. Although the nearby town of Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva further to the west of Sderot both have hospitals, medical care, including specialist care, is generally less available in outlying areas than in the center of Israel. According to data provided by the Health Ministry over the past year, the number of doctors per resident in remote areas of the north and south is also much smaller than in the center.

The services the new Sderot medical center will offer, all at no charge, include consultations with volunteer medical specialists and rehabilitation services for accident victims, terrorism victims and patients recovering from heart attacks or strokes.

Data shows that the Tel Aviv district has the most doctors per population, at 2.9 per 1,000 residents. The Haifa district has 2.3 per 1,000. The central district, which does not include Tel Aviv, has 2.0 per 1,000. There are 1.7 physicians per 1,000 people in the south, and 1.4 per 1,000 in the northern district. The Jerusalem district too has a relative shortage of doctors, with 1.7 per 1,000.

There is a particular shortage in Israel's outlying regions of specialists. While 70 percent of doctors in the Tel Aviv area are specialists, only 43 percent of physicians in the southern district and 41 percent in the northern district are.

In the south, there is a particular shortage of rehabilitation services, and the number of hospital beds for patients requiring rehabilitative medicine is lowest in the south, at four per 100,000 residents, compared to 211 per 100,000 in the Tel Aviv district. In the Ashkelon area, which adjoins Sderot, the number of rehabilitation slots for hospital patients actually declined by 11 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to the Health Ministry, while the Be'er Sheva region has no hospital beds for rehabilitation at all.

There are no facilities anywhere in the south for terminally ill patients.

The shortage of physicians in the field of rehabilitative medicine is felt throughout the country. A long-term agreement reached last year between the Israel Medical Association and the government provides for substantial wage incentives for doctors choosing to practice in outlying areas. It also provides for wage bonuses for doctors who choose to go into the field of rehabilitative medicine.

A medical association report from May of last year notes the problems faced by doctors in remote areas, some of which have not been solved, including limited opportunity to generate income through private practice, isolation from professional colleagues, limited opportunity for professional development, and, because many outlying hospitals are not affiliated with universities, limited access to research opportunities.