U.S. doctors to get training in Israel on coping with terror

A delegation from New York will tour the emergency facility and confer with doctors at Soroka Medical Center in Israel. With threats of terrorism attacks in the United States continuing and with the scars of Sept. 11 as a constant …

A delegation from New York will tour the emergency facility and confer with doctors at Soroka Medical Center in Israel. With threats of terrorism attacks in the United States continuing and with the scars of Sept. 11 as a constant reminder, a group of New York medical professionals are seeking training and advice from Soroka Medical Center in Israel, which maintains a state-of-the-art emergency facility and has a long history of treating terror attack victims.

The group, along with sponsor from New York-based Friends of Soroka Medical Center, is planning to tour the hospital on Aug. 15 during a Solidarity Mission to Israel. In the process, they will have an opportunity to share personal experiences in coping with trauma and profit from the knowledge of the Soroka staff.

“This trip is a unique opportunity for us as American medical professionals
to find out how an Israeli hospital deals with terror on a day-to-day
basis,” said Dr. Abe Berger of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, who will be part of the mission. “It is important for us to view an already successful model so we can bring this knowledge back to our own hospitals.”

The group will be given an inside look at how Beersheba-based Soroka readies itself for any emergency. The hospitals emergency room and trauma center, the largest in Israel, is in the process of constructing eight new operating rooms.

Soroka, which serves nearly a million people in southern Israel, logged 180,000 emergency room visits in 2001. Many of those treated were victims of terrorist attacks and sniper fire, a common occurrence in nearby Gaza.

“When there is a major terrorist attack in Israel, we know from expereince that about 10 percent of the victims will be seriously hurt, 40 percent will be moderately hurt, and 50 percent will have minor wounds,” said Soroka’s Director General Dr. Eytan Hyam.

Soroka’s $15 million, 45,000-square-foot emergency room complex gives new meaning to the concept of disaster readiness, beginning with a fully equipped trauma center. If needed, the 25-bed internal medicine and surgery units within the emergency room can double their capacity. The center also boasts an ambulatory unit with seven exam rooms and two treatment rooms, an orthopedic unit, a 15-bed observation unit, a high-tech pediatric emergency room, and a helicopter-landing pad.

Soroka installed 200 beds in the basement of its 1,000-bed hospital to be used only in the event of a major disaster. Hyam estimated that space for an additional 500 to 700 beds could be created in the hospital during a war or a massive terrorist attack.

Having the best equipment and facilities won’t do much good without proper staffing and training, Hyam said. Soroka’s 4,000 employees include 1,200 nurses and 600 physicians covering every specialty. In a large disaster or war, extra medical staff can be called up from the army. Regular disaster drills with mock victims help the hospital’s staff prepare to handle the unthinkable, or as Hyam puts it, “the ABC’s of unconventional warfare – atomic, biological, and chemical attacks.”

Dealing with terror victims requires a multi-faceted approach. Soroka’s staff is also receiving training in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to learn methods to relieve the emotional trauma of victims and their families. Soroka is creating a special protocol for therapy, implementing intervention plans for acute and chronic cases.

“Hundreds of people can show up at the hospital after a terrorist attack looking for information and comfort,” Hyam said. “Many simply feel that it’s the safest place to be after an attack. It’s a common psychological reaction.”

The stress can take its toll on the emergency room staff, too. Biweekly group meetings with a psychologist help Soroka staff members cope with their feelings about living and working in such a stressful environment.

“Living under the constant threat of terrorism is part of life here in Israel. You don’t get used to it, but you learn to change your behavior. People also go through a sort of post-trauma syndrome that gets worse after every big event,” Hyam said.