Amid a two-hour, nationwide strike in hospitals and clinics on Wednesday morning against the violence that led to the murder of Holon nurse Tova Keraro, the Knesset Labor, Social Services and Health Committee held an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis.
Committee chairman Eli Alalouf opened with a minute of silence in memory of Keraro, who was burned to death in her clinic by a patient. “We must educate the public to behave differently,” he said.
There have been 3,000 incidents of violence in the health system in the last three years, a quarter of them involving physical violence, according to the Health Ministry. A report to the ministry from the Israel Medical Association and others more than a decade ago recommended ways to reduce violence, but most remain unimplemented due to their cost.
To reduce violence, the ministry said it does several things. It holds workshops for medical staff, which include lessons on how to defuse potential clashes and filmed simulations on the values of service and empathy toward patients.
Clalit Health Services clinics have “ongoing security patrols,” the ministry said (however, the Holon clinic where the murder occurred did not have anyone on duty at the time).
If something untoward occurs, security personnel arrive “within a few minutes and deal with it,” a ministry spokesman said, adding that patrols will also be held at tipat halav (well-baby clinics).
A pilot program of putting nine uniformed police in six of the dozens of hospitals has just been completed. The ministry claimed that the pilot has been a “great success in giving the staff a feeling of more security.”
All police stations have been instructed to give swift and effective handling of all violent cases at medical institutions and not to close files on those incidents.
According to a poll of healthcare workers, 36% have experienced physical violence and 75% have faced verbal abuse, but only 11% complained to the police. Alalouf said that violence exists in all corners of society, but the medical sector especially suffers from it.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said Tuesday’s murder must shake up the country. “The doctors and nurses do holy work under difficult conditions, and I am not willing to accept statements that sometimes they ‘bring the violence upon themselves.’ The ministry will hold discussions what to do – and it is not certain that guards at every entrance of every branch is the effective and possible solution, but we will look at advancing enforcement and perhaps even legislation. And we must not ignore the dangers of verbal violence. Today, a long period passes until complaints about violence are dealt with.”
Ilana Cohen, head of the Israel Nurses’ Union, said it has complained to authorities about violence in clinics and hospitals for years, “but nothing has been done.”
Clalit Health Services director- general Eli Depes, at whose clinic Karero was murdered, said every guard in the health fund is trained by the police, but the more extreme the event, the more difficult it is to prepare for it.
“We deal mostly with prevention, and to prevent the next incident, we must deal with pressure and burnout. The health system must receive much more serious help than what has been done in recent years. The society is shocked today and forgets tomorrow. I hope we will not pass over this murder without dealing with the problem seriously,” he said.
The health system is full of stress, which gets worse as the wait gets longer, said Dr. Leonid Eidelman, head of the Israel Medical Association.
“There is no justification for violence, but we must deal systematically with all these problems. We asked for and received uniformed policemen in hospitals for a pilot that was successful, and now we want to expand it. A policeman in uniform gives the team a feeling of security. Frightened staff do not function well, thus violence causes harm to all patients,” Eidelman said.
Workers met in all hospitals and community health fund clinics around the country between 8 and 10 a.m. on Wednesday to discuss the violence and murder and to light memorial candles for Karero.
At Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, deputy director-general Dr. Yuval Levy noted that Karero, “a woman I did not know, was according to all her colleagues happy, pleasant and devoted. A few days ago, her first granddaughter was born. On Monday, she arrived at work in her clinic for a regular work day, which was shortened by the shocking incident in which she lost her life. Her granddaughter will never have the privilege of knowing her.”
Dr. Michael Geist, head of the doctors’ committee at Wolfson Family Medical Center, recalled a seriously violent incident at the facility some years ago. An angry patient entered the gynecology department with a screwdriver. “Luckily,” he said, “the doctor he attacked was not hurt. We insisted that he be indicted, but instead he was fined only NIS 200. This deterred him from doing it again, but there is clearly much helplessness in the enforcement system and a weak response from the justice system. This must change.”
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