Two pallets of medical and surgical supplies woth a total of about $10,000 are on their way to the Barzilai University Medical Center in Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon, Israel, donated by Sinai Hospital of Baltimore to assist in treating patients during wartime.
Barzilai is located just a few miles from the Gaza border, explained Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, who visited the center a couple of years ago, meeting with Barzilai’s CEO and medical director, Dr. Chezy Levy.
The city of Ashkelon and therefore the hospital “is always a target,” Meltzer said. “It’s a trauma center, they treat Gazans and Israelis.”
Barry Bogage, executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, is in close contact with many Israeli businesses, including Barzilai, because of programs designed by the MIDC.
Though direct communications have been sporadic due to military activity, Bogage knew from past experience that Barzilai is “on the frontlines, and they probably need some assistance.” He confirmed the need, then contacted Meltzer at Sinai about donating medical supplies. The MIDC is also extending a grace period for repayment of loans for small businesses in Israel due to the economic impact of Operation Protective Edge.
There was not a specific request list supplied by Barzilai, said Terrence Carney, assistant vice president for supply chain management at LifeBridge Health, but he added, “As we understand it, the patients they’re receiving are patients with trauma, many require surgery. From our experience as a trauma center, we know the products that would be useful.”
After requiring about 10 hours for 12 staff to retrieve, assemble and pack, the shipment included surgical gloves, needles, syringes, surgical sponges, skin staplers, sutures and other instruments for minimally invasive surgery. Some of Sinai’s vendors have also added to the materials donated, and Bogage enlisted the help of a local shipping business to assist in delivery of the supplies. Carney added, “It was a large effort, but it was an effort of love.”
Sinai’s relationship with Barzilai has been ongoing. For the past several years, Martha D. Nathanson, vice president of government and community engagement at LifeBridge Health, has worked with Barzilai, helping it craft an advocacy strategy to develop more efficient and appropriate ambulance safety screening guidelines.
“When Palestinian ambulances come across the border, it takes a long time to be searched because of [potential] bombs,” said Nathanson, “and that would have an impact on patient care because it would take longer for them to get through than perhaps it should.” So Sinai helped Barzilai secure funding for more efficient screening techniques that could reduce the search time. The search happens for ambulances going both ways across the Gaza-Israel border, Nathanson added.
“They’re nationality blind,” she said, referring to Barzilai’s treatment of anyone arriving to the center in need of medical help. “Not just even in times like this, but routinely, because there are services at Barzilai that aren’t available in hospitals in Gaza.”
Originally known as Ashkelon Hospital and in operation since 1961, Barzilai Medical Center has also undergone significant redesign and now operates with 520 beds. About two years ago it began excavation for an underground facility attached to the main hospital. The area served has grown to include Ashdod in the north, Kiryat-Gat and Kiryat Malachi in the east, Sderot in the south and Ashkelon in the west. It also includes all settlements in the periphery.
Meltzer pledged Sinai’s support if there is a need for more assistance. He stressed that they will continue communication with Barzilai via The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the MIDC.
“We feel very fortunate to have this kind of relationship with the organization,” said Meltzer, “and I’m sure they’re exhausted. Our thoughts and hearts and prayers are with them.”