Partnership with Israel: Western Galilee Hospital Construction Is Underway and Expanded Programming Planned

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Since the inception of the Partnership with Israel program that linked the Jewish Community of Louisville (JCL) and 15 other U.S. Jewish communities in the Central Region Consortium with the Israel’s Western Galilee one of the strongest and most vibrant connections that has arisen is in the medical community. Doctors and other medical personal have crisscrossed the ocean, visiting hospitals and offices and sharing their expertise.

This month, Judith Jochnowitz, Western Galilee Hospital’s (WGH) international liaison, stopped in Louisville, and on July 12, she stopped in at the JCL to provide an update on the hospital to Community.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, WGH, located in Nahariya, came under attack. Its ophthalmology department was destroyed when it sustained a direct hit from a rocket. No one was hurt in that attack, because this hospital also has a complete, fully-functional underground facility that is a secure bomb shelter that can even be sealed off in case of a biological or chemical attack.

The war, however, also uncovered a weakness at WGH. As the triage center closest to the front, the hospital also received and treated many casualties, but when the ambulances reached the emergency room, they found the receiving area was totally exposed to potential enemy fire.

Today, with help from the Partnership, WGH is expanding their underground facilities. “The building looks like a bunker with no windows,” Jochnowitz said, “but people will be safe when the time comes.”

The existing underground hospital has 450 beds. With the new construction, Jochnowitz explained, “we are adding 80 more. We’re also adding underground roadways.” When construction is complete, ambulances will drive into a protected area of the building.

“The new building will have two floors above ground and one below,” she added. “A new cardiology area will be on the second floor.”

Normally, construction in Israel can only take place between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., but Israel views this project as so critical that it has given WGH permission to continue working until 10 p.m. so the project will be finished in time.

While much of the funding for this expansion is already in place, Jochnowitz said additional support is needed, and “there is a large selection of naming opportunities.”

Jochnowitz came to the United States for the Partnership Medical Task Force meetings that were held in Chicago on July 11. Since WGH serves a large part of northern Israel, it participates in several Partnership with Israel programs. In a significant change in policy, she explained, “JAFI has just given its blessing to cross-partnership projects, so we’re trying to expand our ERG program” to take advantage of the new opportunities.

She reported that it was “an exciting meeting with lots of new ideas.”

ERG, the Emergency Response Group training program, has been an especially successful element of the Partnership with WGH. It was originally established to train American doctors in WGH’s procedures and mass casualty response so in time of war, Israeli doctors could go to the places they were needed most and American doctors would travel to Israel with 48 hours notice to fill in for those doctors at the hospital.

It has since been determined, that Israel does not need American doctors on call; however, the ERG training in handling mass casualty events is extremely important.

Applications are still being accepted for the next ERG program, October 29-November 4, but the class is filling up. Louisville’s Dr. Philip Rosenbloom, the Central Area Consortium’s Medical Task Force chair and a graduate of the ERG course, has been working hard to recruit medical personnel for this course, so there will be a Louisville contingent enrolled.

In addition to the mass casualty training, participants will be able to spend some time working in their own medical specialties with their Israeli counterparts. “We’re encouraging spouses to come, too,” Jochnowitz said, and alternative programming, including touring in Tel Aviv and in Israel’s north.

The program dates do not including flying times, she explained, and, of course, “anybody’s welcome to extend their trips and tour on their own.”

The Jewish Community of Louisville is handling the registration for this class. Contact Dr. Rosenbloom or JCL Executive Director Alan Engel, 451-8840 or for more information.

As ERG is now in its 10th year, WGH is trying to make it financially independent of the Partnership. “At the last meeting,” she said, “I did not ask for funding, but they gave us reserve funds if we run into problems for the next two courses. We hope we do not have to touch it.”

To make the program more inviting, WGH is experimenting with offering a course from May 27-June 2. “The spring days are nicer,” she explained, “and the days are longer so we will have time at the end of the day to go sightseeing and the participants will get more for their week in Israel.” Jochnowitz also expects the spring course to include a track for hospital administrators.
Many long-term friendships have evolved from the program, and new ideas for cooperation and collaboration have been spawned.

Louisville’s Dr. Walter Olson has told Jochnowitz he would like volunteer and help the hospital. “His specialty is movement disorders,” she said, “and he wants to help with the diagnosis of patients and to help train a young neurologist on our staff to take over and do this.”

Currently, Dr. Olson is working with Dr. Bella Gross at WGH to find a paradigm that will work, taking into account the privacy laws on both sizes of the ocean. They are hoping to establish video conferencing between the patients and doctors at WGH and the doctors in Louisville to help with diagnosis and treatment.

“If this works in one department,” Jochnowitz said, “it will lead to other joint work in other departments,” and if is it successful, she hopes it will be a prototype for a program that can be implemented across Israel.

Another new pilot project the hospital is hoping to launch is in chaplaincy. “Israel always had religious services and a rabbi available to answer,” she explained, “but chaplaincy as it exists in the United States doesn’t exist.” The hospital has also received instructions from the Department of Health to institute a hospice program.

“So we turned to the Partnership to help get us started,” Jochnowitz said, “and they gave us budget for a five part course for 20 people, that will include lectures, workshops, and simulation sessions for people in the hospital to learn about chaplaincy.
“What we would like,” she continued, “is a small American committee of rabbinical chaplains who would be there to answer questions.”

Last March, Dr. Moshe Goldfeld, the head of WGH’s Computer Tomography Unit came to Louisville for specialized MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) training, and worked closely with Dr. Richard Goldwin. Jochnowitz thanked Louisville for hosting him and said he had a wonderful experience.

Now, Dr. Karen Bloom is trying to work out more exchange visits that will bring Israeli medical personal to Louisville.
The Medical Task Force is only one part of Louisville’s involvement with Partnership with Israel. Kathy Karr is Louisville’s Partnership chair, and in the JCL Update column on page 1, she provides information on many other opportunities to participate.

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