Opinion: Why is Israel forcing frontline medical staff to stay home?

Instead of battling back corona, they’re pushing strollers around the neighborhood.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Every day Israeli citizens are treated to worrying stories about the country’s health system straining under the weight of the pandemic. There aren’t enough doctors, nurses, beds – you name it – to go around.

These cries of woe have been met with sympathy thus far by the Israeli public. That sympathy will turn to irritation if more discover that desperately needed medical staff are stuck at home because they can’t find adequate child care for their kids.

Instead of battling back corona, they’re pushing strollers around the neighborhood and playing Hebrew Monopoly with the twins. As the coronavirus rages, Israel’s frontline fighters are playing nanny.

It shouldn’t be that hard to open a nursery at a hospital. In the States, they have nurseries at movie theaters. But instead of finding a solution to this problem, the government is begging doctors past their prime to come out of retirement and pulling paramedics into corona wards.

The problem wasn’t as serious during the first wave. Local solutions still existed. But Israel’s child care centers have shuttered as the pandemic caught up with them, like with so many businesses.

That’s what makes this particularly galling – those nursery school staff forced on the unemployment rolls would love to work at hospitals taking care of the children of those doing “holy work.” It’s a win-win.

The story thus far has gone underreported. Channel 20 to its credit covered it on Sept. 23.

Dr. Rae Biton, head of the Medical Interns’ Union, who has been trying to focus attention on the problem, told Channel 20: “Of 21 hospitals, only five or six have a framework for childcare. Those frameworks aren’t complete. We’re talking about for hospitals only. Community doctors haven’t received any answer. For those with babies zero-to-3-years-old, they’ve gotten no answer.”

Last Wednesday, Dr. Biton testified at a Knesset coronavirus committee meeting that hospitals were operating with just one third of their usual staff.

“At my hospital [Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod], we wanted to close the emergency room this week due to overcrowding. Our coronavirus ward stopped accepting new patients, and we’re hearing similar things from other hospitals in the area,” she told Channel 20.

A Knesset education committee met to discuss the problem but still there’s no agreement, she says.

Ironically, two days after Dr. Biton gave her interview, Hebrew daily Israel Hayom reported, in a small item buried on page 19 of its Sept. 25 edition, that Dr. Biton herself needed a half day off in order to take care of her daughter.

In a social media post directed at the prime minister and health minister, Dr. Biton wrote, “Hundreds of other specialists will be forced to do just like me – your responsibility is to take care of this. Not tomorrow. Now.”

Israel’s government is constantly hectoring the public to do its part. But doing one’s part is a two-way street.

If this unity government, which already suffers a crisis of confidence among the public, expects Israelis to listen, it needs to show it has made every effort in fighting this epidemic, the purpose for which it was ostensibly formed in the first place.

And if it doesn’t – if it lets something as simple as day care for doctors remain bogged down in committees, then it deserves all the opprobrium that can be heaped upon it.