Healing Under Fire: How Ashkelon’s Barzilay Medical Center Coped with Four Days of Rockets (JEWISH PRESS) By: Yori Yanover 03/23/12)
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Soft spoken and friendly, Barzilay Medical Center CEO and Medical
Director Dr. Chezy Levy faces extremely unusual professional
challenges, born by his facility’s unique location – only a few miles
north of the Gaza strip.
“What we’ve experienced in the last four days is another wave of
violence in this area,” he recalled one day after a tenuous cease
fire between the Islamic Jihad and Israel had gone into effect. A lot
of missiles fell here.”
Altogether, the four days of fighting in mid-March, 2012, saw some
200 rockets being launched at Israel’s southern population centers,
compared with about 800 rockets over the entire three weeks of
operation Cast Lead of late 2008, early 2009.
“Barzilay is the only hospital in the region, and so, in addition to
our routine service in every area of medicine, like any ordinary
hospital, we also have to be prepared year-round to treat civilians
who were wounded by those missiles from the Gaza strip, and treat
additional casualties from the military,” said Levy.
He used to be the IDF Surgeon General, and so dealing with
emergencies, “unfortunately,” as he frequently puts it, is his bread
and butter. “We, doctors, live in Israel with one eye looking at
ordinary medical service, and the other eye always ready and alert in
anticipation of emergencies. This is, unfortunately, why Israel has
such expertise in operating medical facilities in emergency times.”
Early on the Sunday following the eruption of the short, but massive
conflict, Dr. Levy sent word to his entire staff to forgo all leaves
and come in. This was not simple, since schools had been closed as a
result of the fighting, and many of his nurses are mothers to school
age and smaller children. Nevertheless, he said, they all showed up,
because “they are very devoted to the patients and the hospital.”
In my work as local reporter in NY City, I once covered the way
Gouverneur Medical Center on the Lower East Side operated during a
particularly fierce blizzard. Staff members walked many blocks across
town in snow up to their knees, to get to a subway that was still
operating, to make it to work. I know first hand this kind of
dedication of medical staff. But this one required working under fire
and leaving one’s children in someone else’s care while the shells
were coming down. Beats a blizzard.
“We had to decide which patients to transfer to our better protected
facilities,” Dr. Levy explained what working under fire actually
took. “This hospital is quite old and there are some shielded
buildings, but most aren’t. Unfortunately, we are well used to this,
since we’ve been targeted by missiles, on and off, for more than ten
years now. And as time passes, the Gazan missiles are becoming more
and more sophisticated, and Ashkelon is now regularly within the
range of the shooting.”
He said this had been the fourth time in which the shelling was so
bad and ongoing, they had to transfer patients to other, better
“Our choice is to first move those patients who can’t help
themselves,” he continued. “So we took, first of all, the premature
babies and put them in the shielded area.”
He smiled softly. “You should have seen them transporting a
premature baby in the incubator, while resuscitating it on the way…”
Then they took the newborn babies. Then they moved the pediatric
ward, the dialysis patients, and patients receiving ontological
The very old, geriatric patients who can’t help themselves were
transferred outside the region, to facilities up north.
Ashkelon´s Barzilay Medical Center meets the challenges of living
next door to the Gaza strip, Grad rockets and all.
“We transferred about 100 patients, or 20% of the patient population,
most of them to protected hospital units, some to ambulatory
services,” he reported, sighing: “It took four to five hours to move
all the critical equipment and to open the new, protected ward.”
Dr. Levy said he and his staff were debating whether or not to
transfer the emergency room to the shielded buildings, and in the end
decided against it. The alternative location is just not convenient
enough for the kind of fast-pace, hectic work that goes on when an ER
is taking patients from massive rocket hits.
“We are in the process of building a new, protected emergency room,
which should be ready in two to three years,” he said, and his
subdued smile suggested two to three years was a very long time when
you live this close to Jihadists with access to batteries of Grad
But he was effusive in describing his facility’s openness to anyone
who requires medical help, including folks from the very area that’s
shelling his facility.
“In this hospital we also treat Palestinians, and among the patients
we had to transfer under the Grad shelling to the protected areas
were civilians from the Gaza strip,” he said. “It reminded me of
something I saw four years ago, during the Cast Lead operation. We
had a pair of Palestinian twins who were receiving treatment here,
and their mother refused to go back to Gaza. She said she preferred
staying here and receiving treatment under the missile fire that came
at her from her own home town.”
Then he reiterated: “We don’t differentiate between patients based on
their nationality. We treat everyone.”
On the morning we spoke, one day after an unofficial cease fire
between Israel and the Palestinians had gone into effect, Barzilay
was starting to go back to its ordinary operations.
“It took some time,” Dr. Levy said, “but now we are under ordinary
conditions, the kids are back in school, everything is OK.”
Then he intimated: “I pray for the day when we no longer need to
invest in emergencies, and we can invest all this money in developing
A new facility that will offer larger sheltered quarters will be
completed in two to three years.
I asked Dr. Levy if there were serious medical consequences from the
four days of shelling.
“Luckily, no,” he said. “Luckily, our staff is so well trained and
skilled, that they accomplished the moving of so many patients
without harmful consequences.”
Beyond the serious inconvenience, and beyond the harsh responsibility
in deciding who must be moved and who can stay, and who is in such a
dire condition that they may not be moved at all.
What about budgetary consequences?
“Whenever something like that happens we face budgetary issues,” he
said. “It’s secondary, of course, but we feel the economic pinch as a
result of admitting fewer patients and performing fewer operations.
After all, our income depends on those, and here our income suffered
some. But we’ll deal with it.” (© 2012 JewishPress. 03/23/12)
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