The government had enough time to prepare for another outbreak of COVID-19 at retirement homes but failed to do so. The headlines are once again screaming about an eruption at nursing homes, and the same failures are clear once again: results of coronavirus tests coming in slowly, difficulties in supplying vaccines and delays in evacuating and isolating the sick. And all this is accompanied by a staffing shortage.
In the past 20 days, 1,079 nursing home residents and 689 employees have been found positive for the virus. This is happening in an industry that already is suffering a staffing shortage; according to Israel’s association of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, there is a shortage of about 8,000 caregivers. And it’s happening as current staff members are burned out after a year and a half of the pandemic.
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Instead of the Health Ministry reinforcing the medical staffs and auxiliary staffing, while implementing contingency plans for reinforcements, or at least providing the institutions with large budgets for these purposes, the ministry imported migrant workers from abroad. But even here COVID-19 struck: The workers never got to Israel because of the restrictions on entering the country. Thus, the nursing home directors have been left to confront a lethal wave of the pandemic on their own.
The staffing shortage has also hit Israel’s Magen Avot V’Imahot project – the program for protecting the residents of retirement homes. Cuts there were made between the waves of the pandemic, so the work is being carried out in a limited format. The Health Ministry’s failure to require the Green Pass at these institutions is also harming them. It’s not clear why the places that house the most vulnerable don’t demand a Green Pass.
Confusion reigns at the retirement homes, and the residents and their families are suffering from initiatives adopted by directors of these institutions in an attempt to battle the pandemic. This week the head of Magen Avot V’Imahot recommended requiring the Green Pass at these places, but until that’s legally approved, the virus is spreading.
Health Ministry officials haven’t managed to prevent the current wave of illness, but they must try to minimize damage and even prepare for the next one.
Staffing at the nursing homes must be increased, or they must be budgeted so they can recruit workers. The Green Pass must be applied immediately at retirement homes. They each must have a team of employees who will help prevent an outbreak even during routine times. And priority must go to testing at nursing homes, at the expense of tests elsewhere.
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Retirement homes are the soft underbelly of society. Israel has already felt the consequences of a lack of preparation to protect older people. Now it must act quickly to prevent a tragedy.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.