Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Little Israeli Hospital That Could

Tucked up in the uppermost northwest corner of Israel, only six miles from the Lebanese border, lies a little hospital with a big heart, very tight security, and a deep underground emergency facility it hopes it will never have to use again.
For years it has hoped for the best, but fortunately prepared for the worst.
Last summer during the war with Hezbollah, its preparedness paid off: this hospital was the best functioning, most overworked hospital in all of Israel--even as hundreds of katyushas whizzed overhead and several made direct hits on its facilities.
It's Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya and serves some 400,000 Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze in the northern region.
It's existed for decades with the reality and constant threat of missile attacks from Southern Lebanon and beyond. For this reason it is quickly developing a global reputation as one of the best wartime facilities in the world---for mass casualty events including injuries from biological/chemical warfare and acute stress syndrome.
Surrounded by over 250,000,000 Muslims in the Middle East, many of whom want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, this little country of 6 million Jews is taking war and casualty preparedness very, very seriously. WGH is leading the charge to take care of its people.
With this growing threat coupled with the explosion of population in the Northern Galilee region---including Russian and Ethiopian Jews and Lebanese refuges---WGH is urgently trying to expand its emergency facilities during the ceasefire, even as Hezbollah rearms itself with supplies provided by Syria and Iran.

"We've had hundreds of people---doctors, administrators, psychologists and government officials---from all over the world visit us since the war ended to see how a hospital operates with the kinds of pressures we've been under," said Judy Jochnowitz, International Liason of WGH. "It's gratifying but a bit overwhelming. In the midst of it all, we're working on an expansion of the underground Emergency Department."
It's a race against time. The little hospital that serves so valiently---and even gives a week-long course on preparedness each year to medical professional and government officials from everywhere---now needs whatever support the world community can muster.
WGH is now working on raising the last $2,500,000 necessary to commence a $25,000,000 renovation of its underground Emergency Department and shielded operating rooms, which include expansion of the hallways for ambulances to drive into.

If all goes well and enough pledges and donations come in, construction is due to begin this summer.
"What makes our hospital so special," said Dr. Mosche Daniel, Acting Director of WGH, "is that both our patients and employees are made up of Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze. We live and work in a peaceful co-existence. As bad as it got last summer, almost everyone came to work during the war because they love this place and feel like we're all family here."
When the war started last July 12 with a barrage of rockets, it was Dr. Daniel who gave the order the evacuate patients and staff to the underground quickly. Over 400 patients were moved in just one hour.
The underground served as a shelter for patients. Employees as well as their children took refuge there too. With the planned expansion, WGH can take in even more patients and families into its underground.
But no one gets into WGH, or its underground without going through very tight security.
"Even patients bleeding and on stretchers have to go through tight security," Daniel told me when I visited there this week, adding that terrorists have been known to strap bombs and explosives under their clothes and bags when thye're carried in.
So they check everyone, and thus far such check point security has paid off.

For now there's an uneasy peace at WGH. But they live with a sense of urgency, as all Israel does. They know the preparedness and emergency drills they undertake today, could have major impacts on future wartime functioning of their people in the Northern Galilee.
I, for one, am privileged to know about WGH through the wonderful people I have met there, especially my new friend and "sister" Dr. Malka Yaholom, a cardiologist at WGH I met last year in the Istanbul airport and have stayed in touch with by e-mails. And I plan to continue supporting this worthy cause and my friends there both now and going forward.

Anyone wishing to support Western Galilee Hospital's Emergency Department expansion in or outside the United States may contact Mark Goldstein ( at the Jewish Federation of Lehigh Valley (JFLV) in Allentown, PA. This organization sends 100% of all contributions earmarked for WGH on to the hospital in Nahariya. Donations are tax-deductible.
Or they can contact me.
WGH needs our friendship and support.
The little Israeli hospital that could has big plans, as it hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst in northern Israel.

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