Dr. Michael Halberthal, Director General of Rambam Health Care Campus, has been tirelessly leading the hospital through the daily challenges of the coronavirus. Below is an editorial he wrote for the Israeli daily newspaper and news website, “Israel Today”.
At the beginning of March 2020, the first patient to be diagnosed with COVID-19 entered the gates of our hospital. Today, more than a year-and-a-half later, we are far from the end of this battle, but we have gained significant wisdom. In my view, first and foremost is the lesson we have learned in humility. Twice we believed we were victorious, but we were wrong; we need to alter our way of thinking: we are engaged in a marathon – not a sprint. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a medical event; it is a national security event, and it impacts every aspect of existence – our families, our society, the economy and, of course, medicine and science. From the time of the creation of the modern State of Israel, we have experienced no other event with such a prolonged and profound impact on our national existence. The duration of the pandemic, 7,000 deaths and millions of documented cases of infection, are facts that speak for themselves.
The coronavirus has caused us to engage in some national introspection. On the one hand, we witnessed the critical importance of the family unit, shared responsibility for one another, and the yearning for effective leadership. On the other hand, the divisions in our society have become blatantly apparent – our capacity for violence, intolerance, and impatience.
Decorations for bravery are awarded when vital networks are lacking or inadequate, and individuals and groups courageously take the initiative to create a new, better reality. In my view, during this time of unprecedented challenges, the leadership of the Israeli healthcare system demonstrated extraordinary strength, ingenuity, and determination, and built a fortified “wall” against the coronavirus. I expect that most Israelis, notwithstanding our many differences, would agree with this conclusion.
Despite all that we have endured, to my sorrow and heartbreak, our national decision-makers have not yet internalized the critical need to revitalize and rebuild our Israeli healthcare system. Health is a fundamental human value, certainly in the context of the Israeli national experience. Nevertheless, I and my colleagues among the healthcare leadership continue to be viewed as “thieves” and there is a concerted effort through the Arrangements Law to inflict punishment and impose draconian restrictions.
I and my colleagues are employees of the national healthcare system. We did not go into medicine only as a profession – but rather as a way of life. I made my personal decision to become a physician at a very young age. I underwent a lengthy and complicated educational track, and I never anticipated becoming a member of senior management. The common thread uniting our efforts was the dedication to the needs of the patients. Hence, it is exceedingly frustrating to hear endless complaints from patients and others, which I know to be the result of decisions made by those with power over our healthcare system, but with no responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. The CEOs of Israel’s public hospitals have expressed despair at the breakdown of our healthcare system. In fact, to understand the extent of the frustrations, some doctors have even threatened to discontinue patient care.
Due to our immense responsibility and dedication, we will put on our armor (which does not protect our souls) and will go to battle on behalf of the Israeli people – to fight the pandemic and to conquer new medical frontiers as we derive vaccines and find treatments and cures. At the same time, we will look at ourselves and hope that our armor remains strong, and we will fight for the basic right of our citizens to receive high-quality healthcare, which is as important as safety and security. As leaders in Israel’s national healthcare system, we place great value in knowing that the Israeli people are well-informed, and that they are with us.