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Shaare Zedek’s director general is no stranger to daunting medical situations

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Nurses take photos of themselves in their jumpsuits so as to not be anonymous and show a friendly face| Photo: Shaarei Zedek Medical Center

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Like many countries, Israel’s healthcare system was tested by COVID-19. The pandemic only added weight to existing budgetary and infrastructure challenges and the number of emergencies, which are already augmented in “normal” times due to terrorism.

Prof. Ofer Merin is no stranger to daunting medical situations. As director general of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, he has handled crisis after crisis.

He headed the IDF’s mobile field hospital responses to the 2009 devastating earthquake in Haiti, and natural disasters in Nepal, the Philippines, and Japan. 

He’s also a heart surgeon, an expert in emergency medicine, and a World Health Organization mentor for field hospitals.

TheJ.ca spoke with Dr. Merin to find out more on what Israel has been doing to keep Coronavirus cases low, and what their aggressive decision-making in that regard has meant for that country.

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Do you think Israel’s lockdown should have been more stringent, or relaxed, like Sweden’s? 

It is clear that many of the early decisions made in Israel helped save lives, and reduced the costly toll the pandemic has taken on other parts of the world.

When did the virus’ real threat become obvious to you?

Two weeks before we even received our first coronavirus patient, we knew this was an unprecedented medical event. At that point, I had already established that we would be working with a higher level of preparedness designed for times of heightened medical threat. From that moment, we held daily meetings with an expanded oversight team, and that system stayed in place for the next two and a half months.

The most challenging issues with COVID-19 were the many unknown characteristics of the disease and how to treat it. There are also many obstacles [caused by] the virus’ highly contagious nature. This required protective equipment for the staff and patients, while also limiting any exposure to family members and the general public. 

Nurses are genuinely full of compassion and warmth even during trying times| Photo: Shaarei Zedek Medical Center

There has been a small spike in infections since the Israeli government lifted some restrictions. However, many Israeli experts are saying it’s not a “second wave.” What do you think would be the appropriate response should there be a marked rise in infections?

We always expected that when the restrictions were lifted there would be an increase in cases. The challenge and responsibility would be to carefully monitor that increase, so it doesn’t overwhelm the health system, and as much as possible to keep the increase away from the most vulnerable populations – the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. So while we are certainly experiencing an uptick, which is concerning, it is still very much under control. Should the numbers continue to rise, decisions will have to be made to ensure greater social distancing, and we of course will have to increase the hospital’s readiness to absorb a higher number of COVID-19 cases.

Are there any preparedness strategies from your past roles, that have served you in dealing with COVID-19?

The model of the IDF Medical Corps that I am honoured to [have led] was critical in helping us to respond to COVID-19. Last year at Shaare Zedek we ran extensive drills to prepare the hospital for an outbreak like this, so we [relied on that] practice when these real-life challenges came in early March.

The military [always] plans for the next challenge, even before it occurs. Using that approach we were ready to open the next coronavirus ward well before the previous one had reached capacity. We were never playing catch-up, and instead could focus on the medical challenges and ensuring every patient got the care they needed.

This is similar to how we approached humanitarian missions in Japan, Haiti, Nepal, on the northern border with Syria… [We] created a system that is able to respond to all types of needs. These missions [are valuable] to help others in times of need but also to make sure our nation is better prepared for potential crises.

The 1st Corona department at Shaarei Tzedek was made up of entirely of Hospital Volunteers | Photo: Shaarei Zedek Medical Center

What is/was Israel doing to keep COVID-19 at bay, and are there any lessons other countries can glean from Israel?

Israel has an advantage that we are able to more easily control our borders so that we can more effectively limit the arrival of people who may be carrying the virus. That, combined with effective and targeted testing of the population, is critical to ensuring it won’t overwhelm the system.

Dr. Ofer Merin, Director General of the Shaarei Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem | Photo: Shaarei Zedek Medical Center

Did your medical training include how to deal with a pandemic?

The guiding principle we have always relied on, and which will guide us should there be a next wave, is to be as prepared as possible. This definitely comes from my military background and training where you can never anticipate exactly what lies ahead, so you need to be ready for as much as possible.

Ray McCoy is a freelance writer and investigative researcher from the Midwest. He has been published by The Federalist, American Greatness, National File, and the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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