Hadassah hospitals strain to stay one jump ahead of terror

Sirens wail over Jerusalem. Another pop quiz is under way for the ER doctors in Hadassah Hospital.

What will it be this time? A bomb? A bomb packed with shrapnel? Is the shrapnel coated with poison? Or, perhaps most gruesome of all, have the terrorists intentionally selected an AIDS-stricken suicide bomber in the hopes his blood will infect victim and rescuer alike?

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef has seen it all, as his weary and, oftentimes, pained expression attests. “Every time there is a terror attack, we have to see what we are confronting this time. We are all experts in this field,” said the director general of Hadassah’s two Jerusalem hospitals. He was in town recently to meet with officials from Hadassah and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

And while an emergency room is never serene, there’s a difference between treating victims of a bus crash and a bus bombing. It’s “a different kind of trauma. There are multiple, multiple organs and all this metal inside your body. It’s a very specific kind of trauma … In Israel, unfortunately, we have built up an expertise with cases like this.”

But doctors and hospital staff are not robots. After every major Jerusalem terrorist attack, off-duty nurses and doctors run to the emergency room to see if friends and loved ones are among the victims. Mor-Yosef estimates that, in the past three years, he has been to at least 25 funerals of employees or their relatives.

Besides killing as many people as possible, terror attacks are designed to engender strife between Israel’s Arabs and Jews. Hadassah’s campuses in Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus, however, are an oasis, “an island,” according to their director, who was recently featured in a “60 Minutes” segment on Hadassah hospitals.

Arabs, who make up 10 percent to

15 percent of patients and 5 percent to

7 percent of the staff, and Jews have

a healthy relationship at the hospital, but, Mor-Yosef admits, “It is not a rosy picture.”

No one could avoid feeling conflicted in a work environment where terrorists are sometimes treated in the same emergency room as the victims of terror attacks. But as much of a strain as “the situation” is for staff, Hadassah employees are trained to see the man or woman lying before them as simply a patient, nothing more and nothing less. “The minute you cross the door, you are a patient, and it doesn’t matter what you did before you were in the hospital,” he explained.

But with staff of all stripes working shoulder-to-shoulder, political discussions and confrontations are inevitable. “There’s no gathering in Israel where you don’t mention ‘the situation,’ solutions, your frustrations. And everyone has got his own view. But we keep politics in a closed room, and not in front of patients and not so it will interfere with activities.”

Mor-Yosef was recently forced to invest $1 million to beef up hospital security, and despite the fact that a few seconds can make the difference in a patient living or dying, every speeding ambulance must now be searched before it enters the hospital.

“Four years ago, no one could imagine a terror attack could happen in the hospital. Because, you know, we thought there were some red lines, and those red lines won’t be crossed by Arab terrorists. But after these three years, we don’t believe in any red lines,” the director said.

Ambulances are used to ferry terrorists and arms in the West Bank and Gaza. Pregnant women have been caught transporting weapons.

The Hebrew University bombing marked a turning point, in his opinion, when the terrorists took off the gloves and the despair became tenable. “At our Mount Scopus hospital, there is just a fence between the hospital and an Arab village. All the citizens of this village receive medical help or services at Hadassah-Mount Scopus. Many of the citizens of this village are employees of the hospital,” he said.

“But in the last two years, five Molotov bombs were thrown from this village to the backyard of Mount Scopus hospital. Nothing happened, but it’s a statement, something real we have to deal with.”

While Mor-Yosef does not push a political point of view, he insists that something must be done to end the bloodshed, if not to bring peace. “Noah sent the dove three times, not one time, until he found a place for his ark,” he said. “I feel we have to send this dove as many times as possible in order to find some solution.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.