A Channel 12 News investigative report last week about a clandestine Chareidi organization that provides medical treatment for Chareidi patients at home has raised controversy in the Israeli public, with some aghast at the practice and others touting its success and highlighting its role in easing the burdens on hospitals.
The Chasdei Amram Gemach began in Mea Shearim, where an underground storage room holds hundreds of oxygen machines that are loaned out to coronavirus patients for free, as well as dozens of oxygen saturation monitors and other medical equipment. Volunteers visit seriously ill coronavirus patients at home, closely monitoring them and checking on them at home several times a day. Doctors and nurses who cooperate with the organization for payment oversee the care, and make the call if/when the patient should be transferred to a hospital.
The phenomenon quickly spread beyond the insulated Mea Shearim community to other frum communities in Jerusalem, to other cities, and other sectors, including the general Israeli population.
“Our goal is to save as many lives as possible,” one of the Chasdei Amram volunteers told Kikar H’Shabbos. “The community affiliation of the patient doesn’t interest us. Whoever turns to us receives care.” He added that volunteers providing care wear full protective clothing and equipment so that they won’t contract the virus and will be able to continue saving lives.
When the report was publicized, it aroused much public interest, with some saying that the situation is deplorable, creating a situation of a “state within a state,” and pointing out the risks of seriously ill patients remaining at home rather than being hospitalized. Some doctors said that some of these patients treated at home suddenly took a turn for the worse and arrived at the hospital too late for their lives to be saved, emphasizing that the condition of coronavirus patients often deteriorates rapidly and hospitalization can save lives.
On the other hand, others viewed the report as positive, shedding light on an aspect of Chareidi society that some are amazed by, that volunteers sacrifice considerable time, effort, and money to care for strangers without any compensation. Others expressed interest in how they could obtain such care for their family members ill with coronavirus at home.
Some medical professionals also see the phenomenon of home hospitalization as positive and even as the ideal future model of health care. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein praised the chessed shown by the organization but stressed the need not to eliminate established medical care.
Prof. Gabi Barbash, a well-respected former Health Ministry director-general, also expressed support of the phenomenon, telling Reshet Bet: “I think that the exposure of the phenomenon should provide food for thought for those responsible for community health treatment in Israel.”
“I’m not sure that the way we hospitalize patients with a cutoff line of 93% oxygen saturation is the best way. I think we may be hospitalizing more people than necessary and it would be preferable to treat them at home if the health system was set up in a way that it would be possible. If the public health system could set up a similar home hospitalization system, with patients only hospitalized if their condition deteriorates, it’s possible that those with oxygen levels of 89%-93% may receive better treatment at home and it will also lessen the burden on the hospitals. We really should be providing funds for doctors and nurses to make home visits. ”
Prof. Barbash also mentioned the lower economic cost of treating patients at home. “Treatment at home costs, let’s say, around a thousand shekels a day. But it costs four thousand shekels a day to treat a patient in the hospital. And people are being dumped in the wards. The staff keeps their distance and the patients are isolated from their families and all they see are masks. I think we should be asking ourselves all these questions.”
Another senior medical professional told B’Chadrei Chareidim: “I watched the report with great interest and I can say that if the care is really as described in the article – that the patients are at home but are closely monitored by doctors who know when to draw the line and hospitalize the patients – this is precisely the most effective method of caring for patients.”
The medical professional added that although Israeli hospitals are providing excellent care to coronavirus patients: “nevertheless, with all due respect to the medical system, we must remember that the patient is lying in an isolated ward, being monitored remotely via a computer screen, with doctors and nurses – dressed in alien-looking protective clothing – entering the room once or twice a day. This has a negative effect on patients’ moods, not to mention the fact that the patients have to wait an hour or two just for a glass of water. It’s an extremely unpleasant situation – and that’s putting it mildly – and it has a direct negative effect on patients’ health.”
“I think this is precisely the future of health care that we’re striving for. It’s very possible, and as a result of the coronavirus, which as is known, caused a breakthrough of advanced technology, especially in telemedicine, that we’ll also see a boom in the field of home hospitalization. We’ll benefit in all the aspects: the patients will be cared for at home in their familiar environment, they will have less exposure to infections [that they may encounter in hospitals], and there will be considerable financial benefits in avoiding the high costs of hospitalization.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)