Pittsburgh gets small dose of Israel’s impressive health care advances

Pittsburgh gets small dose of Israel’s impressive health care advances

Dr. Michael Sherf (Photo provided)
Dr. Michael Sherf (Photo provided)

The United States could learn a lot from Israel when it comes to health care, according to Dr. Michael Sherf, deputy CEO and head of hospitals of Clalit Health Services, the largest of the four health maintenance organizations (HMOs) in the Jewish state.

Clalit serves 54 percent of Israel’s population, particularly linguistic and religious minorities, and operates 14 hospitals and 1,400 primary care and specialty clinics, including three geriatric and long-term care hospitals, 83 physiotherapy centers and 22 mental health clinics. Its facilities span from Eilat to Haifa, and it is one of only two HMOs that serve the 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev.

Sherf, who was in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28 to meet with community leaders, was hosted by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, a supporter of Clalit, which has been instrumental in advancing the HMO’s work in infection control and palliative care, Sherf said in an interview.

Sherf stopped in Pittsburgh during a short North American tour that also took him to Montreal, New York and Boston.  

“We would like people to know what the Clalit health care system is all about,” said Perry Davis, an international fundraising consultant who had accompanied Sherf to Pittsburgh. “Dr. Sherf is the senior doctor of Israel, managing 14 hospitals. And Clalit is one of only four HMOs that have any public hospitals. Pittsburgh is such a medical town; whenever we can, we like to visit.”

Sherf and Davis were scheduled to meet with JHF staff, representatives of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and others while in town. In New York, they met with “some key funders,” including representatives of the Helmsley Foundation, which awarded Clalit a grant to develop an infrastructure for accessible medical records.

The new medical records infrastructure has been “a real revolution,” said Sherf, adding that it has connected most medical personnel in the country with the past and current health data of the population.

“If someone enters an ER and is unconscious but has identification,” Sherf explained, “in seven seconds, you know everything about him. And when the patient is discharged from the hospital to the community, all the information from the hospital goes to his physician. All of the hospital stay and the discharge orders are electronically recorded and available [to other medical personnel]. It’s very, very advanced.”

Clalit, Sherf said, has made several other medical advances in recent years, including improving its results in lowering the infection rates at hospitals, “especially in intensive care units, decreasing about 50 percent of central line bloodstream infections.”

The HMO has also made significant advances in emergency preparedness, Sherf said.

“Life in Israel means we have to be even more prepared for emergencies,” he said, adding that Clalit places an emphasis on training.

“Once a year, we stop all the work in our hospitals to prepare,” he said, noting that the HMO’s preparedness teams include those specializing in biological terror and earthquakes.

Because of the proficiency of the training, Sherf said, NATO officers “have come to see how we prepare for a chemical attack.”

Among Clalit’s newer developments, according to Davis, is emergency preparedness for a potential attack from Israel’s northern border. Because of the locations of some of its facilities, “Clalit will be on the front lines” in the event of an attack coming from Lebanon.

“We will be dealing with 1,500 missiles a day if there is a full attack from southern Lebanon, from Hezbollah,” said Sherf. “There is no way the Iron Dome will get all these. There are three people in charge of preparing Israel for this: the director of the Ministry of Health, the senior army doctor and me, because Clalit owns the hospitals. We decide how to prepare our hospitals.”

One issue that will be addressed, he said, is securing operating rooms from attack, including constructing impenetrable walls as well as a ventilation system that can withstand chemical warfare.

“Everyone thinks there will be an outbreak from the north,” Sherf said. “Israel is a country where wars repeat, and the last one was in 2006.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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