Learning from disaster response in Israel

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

The vital role of Hadassah in responding to natural and man-made disasters, terrorist incidents and accidents was described by Vered Kater, a senior faculty member at Hadassah’s Hebrew University School of Nursing in Jerusalem. She spoke to about 50 members and friends of the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah last Wednesday (July 8) at the home of Dr. Robert and (Chapter President) Judy Kramer.

In introducing Kater, Judy Kramer described her as “one of Hadassah’s extraordinary nurses,” pointing out that Kater is also a pediatric nurse specialist and an assistant clinical professor of nursing at Saint Louis University’s School of Nursing. She frequently visits St. Louis in that capacity.

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Kater is a native of Holland, “whose life was affected by the Holocaust,” Kramer noted. She explained that after the Nazis invaded Holland, Kater was passed from family to family, and was protected by her temporary war-parents as one of the “hidden Jewish children” of the Holocaust. After the war, she was re-united with her parents and sibling, became a pediatric nurse and earned a masters degree in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She studied in several countries before settling in Israel, where she joined the faculty at Hadassah’s Hebrew University School of Nursing in Jerusalem.

Kater showed a 20-minute video which described the evolution of Hadassah Hospital, from its origins on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem in the 1930s, through the closure of the original campus due to the 1948 Israel War of Independence, to the construction of the new Hadassah Hospital in 1952, through the re-unification and re-furbishing of the original Mount Scopus Campus after it was liberated in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The presentation also described the major new Sarah Westman Davidson Tower, which will greatly expand and modernize the facility. It is slated to open in 2012.

Both Kramer and Kater pointed out that Hadassah took “a major hit” from the Bernard Madoff scandal, sustaining significant losses from investments with the convicted Ponzi scheme investor.

“In response, all of the top people on our faculty voluntarily took a 5 percent pay cut, with the next level taking a 3 percent cut and the rest taking a 2 percent cut,” Kater said. “And not one person has complained about these measures.

“Meanwhile, our important work continues and will continue with our state of the art research in stem cells; efforts to slow the effects of multiple sclerosis; computer-assisted hip replacements and shoulder surgery and treatment of so-called ‘bubble babies’ who must live in confined areas due to immune system issues.”

She added, “Hadassah continues also to serve the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We continue to treat Palestinian men, women and children, and are training Palestinian physicians and surgeons. These contacts build tremendous good will and we believe contributes to the cause of peace. Appreciative Palestinian parents, after their children undergo successful operations at Hadassah, become lifelong friends.”

Kater described Hadassah’s emergency room as “simply terrific.”

“We work like an air traffic control tower, and can get people from the scene of a trauma to the ER within two to 10 minutes,” she said. “We can respond to individual cases all the way up to and including mass casualties from accidents or terrorist attacks.”

Kater added that Hadassah’s facilities are designed to be flexible, with wings able to be converted to other uses to meet emergency situations. “Our pediatric hospital can be converted to another emergency room as needed within five minutes. Many of our facilities are designed to fulfill double-purposes.”

She also described Hadassah’s “Adam Computer,” through which family members and hospital personnel can immediately see who has been admitted to the hospital, reducing the stress of family members not knowing where their loved ones are after a disaster incident.

Kater explained that Hadassah often sends teams of specialists in emergency rescue or post-traumatic stress disorder to places like Sri Lanka after the tsunami disaster. “We learned through Holocaust survivors that some survivors cope very well, while others have serious breakdowns; that experience and our own Israeli experiences from constant emergencies gives our people the knowledge to help other nations cope with similar situations,” she said.