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So What if They’re Not the Finance Minister’s Mother?

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Illustration of an Israeli in elder care.
Illustration of an Israeli in elder care.Credit: Ilan Asayag

When the finance minister boils with fury over the abuse of elderly nursing home residents, he's appalled because he thinks about his own mother.

So aghast, in fact, is he and the rest of the horrified public, that he forgets to think about the severely disabled children in hostels for the autistic, about the seriously mentally ill in closed wards, about the youths sent to live away from home due to a physical or mental disability, or both.

None of these folks, the weakest people in Israeli society, remind the minister of his mother. Therefore, it is easy to ignore the occasional reports of abuse, neglect, whitewashing, lies and the gloomy and privatized institutions where Israel houses its dependents.

Once in a rare while, one of these places shuts down and its tenants are sent elsewhere, and some other solution is found for these people who can’t raise an outcry, protest or have any impact on an election.

It’s very easy, all too easy, to forget they even exist. But they are no different from the heartrending seniors. They, too, are helpless. They, too, won’t feel the benefit if the finance minister keeps his vow to ensure that abusive caretakers are severely punished, or finds funding for oversight of these institutions.

The vast majority of these institutions, whether they fall under the responsibility of the Welfare or Health Ministry, operate in the same way: A private company that seeks to profit as much as possible from the business of running a closed facility in which the necessary services are provided at the cheapest and most basic levels, and hiring easily replaceable unskilled and unprofessional low-paid staff.

The government pays a large sum of money for each resident, in accordance with strict actuarial tables of illness, misery and functional level.

The owners of these enterprises always complain about insufficient funding, the families complain about insufficient oversight and the absence of anyone to turn to for help in the government ministries, while the residents themselves are silent, of course.

And if ever there a glimmer of public compassion surfaces, everyone forgets what should be obviously understood by the finance minister and the entire government: A society is measured by how it treats its weaker members, and by its recognition – which should also be a given – that a weaker member of society is an equal citizen entitled to a life of value and optimal support if they and their family are unable to provide for it by themselves.

Do privatized institutions in Israel provide such support? What’s needed is not just more oversight of those with money and power, but a whole new way of thinking, a comprehensive reform – practically and ideologically – regarding all of the weaker and dependent member of our society.

A reexamination of the privatization model needs to take place right away, including a shift of the bulk of support to the resident rather than the institution, recognition of the need for professional and decently-paid caregivers.

We need to adopt the standards of other countries more advanced than we are in their concept of human dignity. Yes, this is liable to cost more than adding a few more inspectors at old age homes, which is the solution that has been offered by the finance minister.

But his solution, unfortunately, just goes to show the extent of the problem: The government cares – but just barely, and without evincing any readiness to use the public coffers to address the problem.

Each one of Israel’s most dependent citizens, even if they don’t happen to be the finance minister’s mother, deserves a lot more than just a few more inspectors.

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