Several directors of geriatric and hospice care institutions in Israel have warned that due to extreme overcrowding during this fifth wave of the coronavirus, combined with the fact that hundreds of staff are in quarantine – and also due to what they describe as a severe deficit due to insufficient government funding – patients who are seriously ill with COVID are receiving substandard care.

According to Health Ministry data, there are currently around 700 COVID patients hospitalized in geriatric care institutions, of whom around 100 are in serious condition. There are a further 2,700 geriatric patients in general hospitals, of whom around 1,100 are in serious condition.

Israel Hayom reports, however, that geriatric care directors insist that the true numbers are greater, alleging that many COVID patients are never transferred into dedicated COVID wards but remain on general wards, and that their numbers are therefore not included in the official count, as a prior article in Israel Hayom suggested. Due to this, they claim, geriatric and hospice institutions are on the brink of economic collapse unless they receive additional substantial funding from the government to offset their extra coronavirus-related expenses – and the government has allegedly failed to respond to their requests.

“The Omicron wave has hit the geriatric population very hard, harder than many of the previous coronavirus waves,” Dr. Galit Kaufman, director of Beit Balev, a network of assisted-living and rehabilitation centers for the Maccabi healthcare fund, told Israel Hayom. “It means that we need extra budgets, extra staff – and the government isn’t providing them. They are simply not addressing the situation, and that makes it almost impossible for us to absorb additional patients who should be transferred to us from the hospitals.”

Itzik Cohen, director of the Geriatric Care Fund, echoed Kaufman’s words. “In 2020 and 2021, private geriatric hospitals received special grants of up to 200 million shekels from the government in order to address the specific needs of the coronavirus crisis. But this year, the Finance Ministry has turned its back on the elderly in institutions and has stopped providing this special funding. We don’t want care of our patients to suffer,” he added.

“In the last two years,” Dr. Kobi Haviv, director of Herzog rehabilitation hospital in Jerusalem, said, “we have proven that we’re on the frontlines of caring for the most complex patients in the healthcare system. Without us treating these patients, the general hospitals wouldn’t be able to deal with the added burden. It’s simply ridiculous that at the very peak of contagion, the funding suddenly stops. The entire sector is now in dire need of support.”

This week, following Herzog hospital’s request, the Health Ministry opened a new department, the first of its kind in Israel, for the treatment of chronic coronavirus patients, which should ease the burden on the intensive care wards in geriatric hospitals.

According to Boris Levine, head of Goldencare Medical Centers, things were already bad before the COVID crisis. “The situation with geriatric care is very difficult and coronavirus just made things worse,” he said. “I’m ashamed to admit that I had to beg for the funding that we should be getting without asking. Everyone’s always talking about elderly patients in serious condition, but no one actually sees them to understand what’s going on.”

“We’re desperately short of funding,” added Ido Shrir, director of a rehabilitation home in Tel Aviv. “We’ve gotten to the point that if the crisis continues without additional financial support, we will be forced to close hundreds, if not thousands of beds for geriatric patients. It’s just a question of time.”

Dr. Aryeh Wolner, director of respiratory care in the Beit Balev Maccabi healthcare system, noted, “The amount of funding allocated to older patients is a disgrace, and in the end, it will impact the quality of care given to the seriously ill. We are trying to cope with a very difficult wave of coronavirus right now, and we have no certainty of getting funding to deal with it.”

In response, the Finance Ministry stated: “The Ministry has invested NIS 29 billion in enhancing and preparing the healthcare system for dealing with coronavirus. This issue will be investigated once the financial data have been ascertained by the relevant bodies.”

The Coronavirus Information Center said: “In the coming days, a call will be issued for applications for indemnification for geriatric institutions and sheltered housing, as was the case in the first two waves of the virus.”