Facing Israel’s Healthcare Crisis: How Transformative Philanthropy Can Help the Most Vulnerable

Photo courtesy Yad Sarah

By Adele Goldberg

In its most meaningful form, philanthropy can provide a spark of change to move the needle on the biggest problems facing society, filling a gap that government and business cannot address – or are not addressing – on their own.

Such is the case today in Israel, which now faces one of the worst crises of any healthcare system in the OECD. According to the State Comptroller, many Israeli hospitals are at or above 250 percent capacity. A new report from Israel’s Ministry of Health found that 44 percent of Israelis are dissatisfied with their patient care at the emergency rooms, where lines are long, medical staff is overloaded, and no relief from the government is in sight. The challenges facing communities in rural areas on the periphery are particularly acute.

Yad Sarah is uniquely positioned to address this looming challenge. The Israeli NGO boasts a network of more than 100 branches throughout Israel, the largest group of active volunteers in the country, and a signature program that lends out medical and healthcare-related equipment to more than 300,000 people each year, from wheelchairs, walkers, and breast pumps to oxygen equipment, home hospital beds, and patient hoists.

Building on its unique capabilities, Yad Sarah has developed a series of new initiatives in partnership with philanthropists like The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Komor Family to alleviate overcrowding in hospitals, reduce costs, and improve health care outcomes in novel and innovative ways.

One of two Helmsley grants, for $750,000, will directly address hospital overcrowding in Israel’s northern and southern periphery, an area that includes mostly smaller, geographically-dispersed communities totaling 1.2 million people. Yad Sarah is building up its Home Hospital program in Beersheba to serve these southern communities, providing the medical equipment and support enabling patients to undergo recovery and rehabilitation at home, and enabling these services to be responsive in an area that has been hit hard in the recent conflicts with Hamas.

Being at home is what we all want when we are not feeling well. Enabling patients to spend less time in the hospital is a life-changing benefit for families and a more cost-effective approach to care. It frees up scarce hospital beds. At the same time, it may also help to lay the groundwork for the future growth of telemedicine, an area that has yet to be developed in any meaningful way in Israel, but could yield huge benefits in terms of improving care outcomes and reducing overcrowding.

A second Helmsley grant, also for $750,000, and a gift from the Komor family will allow Yad Sarah to address another overlooked healthcare need: dental care for the elderly. Yad Sarah already runs a geriatric dental clinic out of its Jerusalem headquarters, with a growing mobile clinic initiative that reaches homebound people throughout the city.

The Komor family grant is expanding the dental clinic professional staff and volunteers, making it possible for more patients to receive access to high quality dental care, and specialty care, on site.

On Israel’s northern and southern periphery, the Helmsley grant is supporting an expansion of in-home dental care for the homebound elderly and people with disabilities. Yad Sarah’s mobile dental clinics currently operate in Jerusalem, Beersheba, and the Haifa suburbs, providing dental care to homebound elderly and disabled people. The program incorporates dozens of volunteer dentists who will give their time to provide care for the homebound at no cost. The Helmsley grant will support the expansion of the mobile units, which includes purchasing equipment, and will enhance Yad Sarah’s capacity to dispense low-cost dental care. Yad Sarah will be able to expand its program to serve thousands of homebound and bedbound people with an urgent need and no recourse for dental care.

By filling in gaps in coverage today and pioneering new models of care for the future, Yad Sarah exemplifies just how private philanthropy can address problems that have not been solved by the government or for-profit organizations. The organization’s annual budget of $24 million is covered in large part by private philanthropy from Israel and abroad, giving it unique flexibility to innovate, experiment, and quickly fill gaps. Yad Sarah’s unique role in Israel goes beyond just care it provides on a day-to-day basis; by pioneering new approaches to care, Yad Sarah has a unique ability to improve the structure of the healthcare system itself.

Adele Goldberg is the Executive Director of Friends of Yad Sarah.