Patients at Haifa’s Bnei Zion Medical Center were recently moved into isolation after they contracted infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Sources at the hospital who were speaking on condition of anonymity blamed the presence of the bacteria — from the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae family — on overcrowding and underfunding at the facility, which they said are an obstacle to maintaining hygiene and preventing infections. Bnei Zion has recently been short of maintenance and cleaning staf, as well as disinfectants, increasing the risk of infection. Overcrowding in the internal medicine wards has compounded the problems, they added.
The Health Ministry confirmed the detection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Israeli hospitals in the past month, due to severe overcrowding.
In a statement, the ministry said that in response, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Arnon Afek has ordered the ministry’s budget department to give priority to the hospitals and to forward their work plans in an effort to improve hospital conditions.
CRE is the antibiotic-resistant bacteria most commonly found in hospitals. Israel has been trying to prevent its spread for years. It can cause infections of the respiratory and urinary systems, as well as blood infections and infections in open wounds.
The bacteria is resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics, and due to the lack of effective treatment, it is considered deadly. It has a mortality rate of up to 40 percent in Western countries.
In April 2014, CRE was discovered in eight premature babies in the neonatal ward of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. None of the infants were sickened by the bacteria, but they were kept in isolation to prevent it from spreading.
In 2012, the Health Ministry published a report detailing all the cases in which CRE was found at hospitals in 2009-2011. The report found that Haifa’s hospitals had the highest levels of CRE infection.
It also found that every year, 4,000 to 6,000 Israelis died after being infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria at hospitals. It said 25 percent to 75 percent of these infections could have been prevented, which translates into 1,000 to 4,500 preventable deaths every year.
In May 2013, a state comptroller’s report identified serious flaws in the way the state monitors infections at medical institutions. It found that hospital-acquired infections, including by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, had been rising over the past several years.
In a statement, Bnei Zion said that like every Israeli public hospital it faces the threat of infections, a danger that “rises during periods of pressure and overcrowding at Israeli hospitals in general and those in Haifa in particular. As of today, the issue of infections at the hospital is completely under control, and there’s no special problem with this issue at the hospital.
“As for the claims about problems with cleanliness in the hospitals’ wards and failure to disinfect medical devices, no such things ever happened. Moreover, as part of our effort to deal with the danger of infections, janitorial work at the hospital has been beefed up round the clock, as is the norm at all Israeli public hospitals.”