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Nurses Strike Over Patient Care at Holon's Wolfson Hospital

Nurses at Wolfson Hospital's Internal Medicine departments in Holon have walked off the job, hoping to force management to hire more staff.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 10/23/2011, 11:13 AM

Nurses at Wolfson Hospital in Holon walked off the job at 9:00 a.m. Sunday to protest overcrowded patient conditions and the excessively heavy workload they say they contend with on a daily basis.

The nursing staff left all stations in the hospital's six Internal Medicine departments, leaving only a skeleton crew to deal with medical emergencies.

This is not the first time the nurses at Wolfson Hospital have tried to force the management to deal with the issue of overcrowding. Nurses at Tel HaShomer Medical Center in Tel Aviv likewise went out on strike in August over a similar issue, and at Assaf HaRofeh Hospital a month earlier as well.

Last week, the nurses at Wolfson walked off their jobs because the census on the floors exceeded 120 percent. The overcrowding was considered a breach in an agreement that had been reached with the hospital's management and the Health Ministry.

According to the hospital's website, Internal Medicine Department A -- a general internal medicine ward -- holds 40 hospital beds, six of which are reserved specifically for step-up intensive care.

But head nurse Anat Abuav-Cohen told Arutz Sheva in a telephone interview on Sunday morning that it's not that simple.

"There are six internal medicine departments in the hospital, each of which is currently over census," she said, "holding at least 50 patients as of this morning, and at least three with 52 patients each. Many are very, very sick and require a high level of attention."

In each department, only 10 nurses are working the day shift, and of those, not all are involved in patient care; some are assigned to administrative and other clinical tasks as well. Cohen said 35 fulltime nursing positions, some of which can be split into flex-time positions, are available to the staff in each department -- not nearly enough to meet the current patient load -- and some of those positions are not filled.

"As a compromise, we agreed in April to care for 42 patients per department instead of 38," Cohen said. "But on some floors, at least seven nursing positions are unfilled. It just doesn't work."

Last month the nursing staff in the medical center's emergency room threatened a similar action over delays in moving patients out of the ER due to overcrowding in other departments of the hospital.

"Sometimes the census gets as high as 200 percent," Cohen contended, "with up to 70 patients on the floor instead of the 38 that are supposed to be there. It is impossible to properly care for so many people under these conditions.

"Left with no other options, our backs are to the wall, and we are forced to strike in order to be heard. We didn't want to do this -- but we also cannot continue this way. Our patients need decent care."

Cohen said the nurses will stay off the floor for the remainder of the day shift, as agreed upon with National Histadrut Labor Union Nursing Division head Ilana Cohen. But she could not say whether the evening shift would do the same -- nor could she predict whether there would be another walkout on Monday.

"It's difficult for us, and even harder on the patients," she said. "We know that, and we hope the hospital management knows it too, and resolves this issue."

For now, two nurses have remained on each floor to be available for emergency care, Cohen said. "I don't know what else is happening there," she added. "It's up to management."