There are few things a parent fears more than needing to hand their child over to a medical staff for life-saving treatment. The difficulty can be amplified significantly when the child encounters an unfamiliar world in the hospital: staff members hailing from different communities and backgrounds may not be aware of the child’s unique cultural sensitivities and needs.
Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital was founded partly to address this issue for the charedi community in Bnei Brak. Dr. Rabbi Moshe Rothschild established the hospital in 1990 with the goal of providing advanced medical services in the spirit of Jewish law. Every detail of the hospital is run according to halacha.
Today, 28 years after its founding, Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital has expanded its pediatric department to better serve the rapidly growing population of children in Bnei Brak. The changes were spearheaded by Professor Eli Somekh, a seasoned pediatrician with many years of experience and an intimate knowledge of the charedi sector.
Professor Somekh was drawn into medicine through his father, who was also a physician. He graduated Tel Aviv University in 1978, did his residency at Wolfson, and then spent three and a half years in additional training at a pediatric medical center in Denver, Colorado. Upon his return, he joined the staff of Wolfson as a senior pediatrician and quickly climbed the ladder, managing a unit and then the entire children’s department.
“Pediatrics is now an inextricable part of who I am,” says Professor Somekh. “Most importantly, because of the direct connection with the kids. The reward is immediate: you see the children smiling, you see them healthy. Being a doctor in the children’s department is a sort of practice of hope; you build a very strong connection with the child and his parents. I still enjoy this direct connection in my work.”
Professor Somekh has served in many other roles in addition to his work at Wolfson. For four years, he was CEO of the Israel Association of Pediatric Medicine, an organization comprising almost 3,000 doctors. He currently serves on the scientific council of the European Association of Pediatric Medicine, and he was selected by the Ministry of Health to serve on some very important committees. He is a member of the committee that determines recommendations for running Tipat Chalav, well-baby care services, in Israel. In 2013, when there was a polio scare, the Ministry of Health appointed him in charge of the Polio Committee. He also serves as deputy deacon at Tel Aviv University. “Baruch Hashem, I have a lot of work to do,” he says.
“If you want to talk about a city of children—that would be Bnei Brak. Over the years, I have come to know the charedi sector quite well through my independent clinic on the border of Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. That’s how my strong connection with the community was formed. I am very aware of the unique needs and dilemmas that characterize the children in the community. Therefore, their mindset about education and medicine was not new to me when I joined Mayanei Hayeshua and I can provide medical assistance in a way that respects their unique needs.”
Professor Somekh says he clicked immediately with the hospital staff. “I eventually got to know Mayanei Hayeshua, and I saw the incredible atmosphere of the place and the medical staff’s strong commitment. Mayanei Hayeshua does wonderful work, providing thousands of religious children with the opportunity to receive the highest level of treatment every year. I completely understand families’ need to receive treatment in a place where they feel comfortable; someplace friendly that responds to their cultural needs and requirements. It’s not just a nice feeling; the medical literature shows us that a place like Mayanei Hayeshua, which provides the communal framework and recreates the patient’s familiar environment, can help facilitate recovery.”
“That said,” he concedes, “we must be honest and admit that we are still very much in need of the help we receive from other hospitals. Our goal is to achieve as much medical independence as we can in the most professional way possible. There is no doubt that a child in his natural environment will heal faster and better.”
Asked how the charedi sector deals with illness differently than the general population, he replies, “Charedi communities tend to have larger families (in close quarters) than the general population, and that makes it easier for infectious diseases to spread. Therefore it’s important to place special emphasis on prevention, and the importance of vaccination, when educating parents. Additionally, there are alternative therapies that tend to be preferred in some charedi communities over the conventionally recommended ones, and we do our best to accommodate their preferences while ensuring that the children are getting the highest level of care.”
“The environment that is familiar to the patient contributes greatly to his health. Even the schoolteachers in the area can sometimes come visit their students that are in the hospital and help them catch up with studies. Social workers need to be familiar with social codes. What is right for one community might not be right for another.” Professor Somekh adds, “The hospital has no televisions or other technological tools that you wouldn’t find in a charedi home. My opinion is that people need to feel that they’re in their natural habitats during times of crisis or weakness. Bringing a child from a charedi home into a medical institution with a different set of rules from the one they are used to can cause problems. It is especially important that in those moments, they will feel comfortable and at home. That’s true of their families as well.”
Somekh emphasizes the importance of this sense of community with another example: “Eating disorders require a lot of attention to detail and to community norms. The chance of recovery and progress is greatly improved when the patient feels at home.” It was for this reason that Mayanei Hayeshua recently opened the only mental health ward in the world run according to Jewish law and staffed entirely with religious caregivers. The ward includes an eating disorder clinic.
Professor Somekh is delighted to be on the staff of Mayanei Hayeshua. “When I arrived I was welcomed very warmly. I felt a great sense of family, of good will, a strong drive to help in pediatrics. Everyone here understands that pediatrics is of utmost importance. Everyone wants to contribute to the success of this department. These are things you don’t see everywhere. There are many wonderful things here: a state-of-the-art NICU, an excellent labor and delivery unit and good foundations in the emergency department and in the children’s department, and we must strengthen that.”
“To continue building more departments and strengthen the medical system, we must first strengthen the foundations. The goal is to provide more medical services for what we call the ‘ultra-specializations’—pediatric nephrology, pediatric pneumology, etc.—in order to provide the full range of responses to various needs. We want to reach a situation where most of children’s medical needs can be met here.”
Mayanei Hayeshua serves 150,000 patients per year, and yet the hospital is renowned for its very personal and attentive care. Its system is built similarly to those of other leading hospitals in Israel and worldwide, and it includes dozens of departments and centers as well as outpatient care; but staff members are especially careful to listen to patients and respect their privacy. The management is strict about constantly monitoring the quality of the service and how well the staff is responding to the patients’ needs and expectations. It’s no wonder that Mayanei Hayeshua scored the highest—by far—among all the hospitals in a survey the Ministry of Health conducted among 11,000 patients in all the hospitals in Israel.
Mayanei Hayeshua has continued to move forward and develop, not only with its structure and aesthetics, but also in terms of its professionalism, service and technological advancement. The equipment used in the medical center is constantly being updated.
This impressive growth is also expressed through its expansion of medical services offered and its recruitment of highly regarded and experienced physicians to its senior ranks. New directors have been appointed for the departments of obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, intensive care, labor and delivery, infectious diseases, vascular medicine and psychiatry. New services are expected to be available soon, such as laser surgery, plastic surgery, an ophthalmology clinic, a lung health clinic and more.
“We choose which services to provide according to the needs of the community. That is our guiding principle as a community hospital—placing the needs of the patients first,” says CEO Shlomo Rothschild.
For more information about Mayanei Hayeshua, visit their website at www.fomhmc.org