Elderly in Israel’s nursing homes hard hit by pandemic

Calls increase for military to take over handling pandemic needs of nursing homes as Knesset holds meeting to discuss crisis.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The families of senior citizens called Wednesday for the government to take immediate action to alleviate the growing crisis facing elderly residents of nursing homes hard hit by the coronavirus.

A petition from the ad hoc group “Save Our Parents” accused the government of “dragging its feet and closing its eyes” to the impact of the pandemic on the tens of thousands of nursing home residents in Israel.

“The government is not working enough to stop the dire situation that exists there, and is not concerned about protecting workers and carrying out comprehensive checks for all tenants and employees even though people have already paid with their lives,” the group said in a statement posted on Facebook.

A large number of the 60 confirmed coronavirus deaths in Israel have been nursing home residents, Israel Hayom reported. “The feeling is that the Ministry of Health is abandoning us all,” an unnamed nursing home administrator said.

Save Our Parents director Udi Lion said the group was testifying to the Social Affairs committee at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and would present its petition.

The group got support from Knesset member Meirav Cohen, who called on the military to take over care of the country’s nursing homes like it was doing in the hard-hit city of Bnei Brak, where one in three residents of the city of 200,000 is feared to be infected.

“Sadly what is happening before our eyes is the terrifying scenario that we feared and the coronavirus is spreading in nursing homes in Israel,” Cohen told the Knesset. “There are over 720 institutions in which tens of thousands of people who live there are in danger.”

Cohen said the world is seeing that one in five elderly people who are infected die.

“Understand the potential of the disaster. The Ministry of Defense must take charge of this business, just as it does in Bnei Brak,” Cohen said. “The situation is urgent and a decision must be taken now, today,”

Relatives are demanding the health ministry test all staff and residents of nursing homes, not just those who were in the area of elderly patients who were found to be infected. The ministry has been under pressure to increase the number of Israelis tested to 30,000 a day, but recently had to cut back on testing due to a shortage of supplies.

That shortage was quickly overcome and officials said testing and analysis would continue non-stop over the week-long Passover holiday that begins Wednesday evening.

A nationwide curfew will put the elderly under more pressure over the holiday, which normally sees millions of Israelis gather for an extended family meal on the opening night of the festival.

Fearing that tradition would spark a new explosion of infection, the government ordered a travel ban and the country will be in a total lockdown the opening night of Passover with Israelis under order to celebrate at home alone with only immediate family.

“I know that this is very onerous but there is simply no choice. We will strictly enforce the lockdown,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address on Tuesday.

Last week Netanyahu warned Israelis to resist the urge to visit the elderly on the holiday, knowing that it’s the age group most endangered by the virus.

“Perhaps the most difficult of all – do not go to grandmother and grandfather; you are simply liable to be putting their lives in danger,” the prime minister said.