TORONTO — During Israel’s war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus was in the line of fire for the Islamic terror organizations’ long-range missiles.
Some 60 rockets fell within a one-mile radius of the medical facility – which serves two million residents of Israel’s north – and some splashed into the Mediterranean close to the hospital grounds. One missile “fell very close, adjacent to the hospital buildings and it shattered hospital windows,” said Rafael Beyar, general director and CEO of the hospital.
Beyar, who was in Toronto recently to meet with Canadian Friends of Rambam and other potential supporters, said no one was hurt in the barrage, but the hospital had to re-organize the way it treated patients. People were moved to the basement while sections of the facility were closed.
Though life has returned to normal, that wartime experience prompted a re-evaluation of the hospital’s strategic plans to better take into account a nightmarish worst-case scenario.
Rambam has adopted a bold new concept that will see construction of an underground three-level parkade that can be quickly turned into an emergency hospital. Within 48 hours, the parking lot will be evacuated and converted into a 1,700-bed hospital, able to withstand missile bombardment, as well as chemical and biological attacks.
The bottom level is reserved for Rambam patients, the second floor for patients transferred from other hospitals, and the top level will serve as a fortified emergency ward. “I hope this will be a facility that nobody will need,” Beyar said.
The underground facility itself is part of an even larger project for the 70-year-old Rambam.
The redevelopment plan, code-named “The Vision of David,” will see the fusion of medical services, biotechnology, research and education facilities in one large campus, most of it above ground. Total cost for the project stands today at $300 million (US), with the price of the underground hospital alone set at $100 million.
Above the parking lot hospital, Rambam will establish new children’s oncology and cardiovascular hospitals. A biomedical discover tower will house a clinical research institute.
Rambam gets half of its capital funding from the government of Israel, but it relies on the private sector to make up the rest. With a seven-year timeline for completion of the project, the first building is expected to be completed in three years.
Until recently, Rambam was not as active as other institutions in soliciting financial help abroad but it is increasingly turning to these supporters –-and within Israel – to help fund the hospital’s expansion. Haifa native Sammy Ofer has put up $25 million towards the underground hospital project while an unnamed Canadian benefactor has put up a similar amount for a new oncology hospital, Beyar explained.
“We often come to the western countries to meet our friends,” he added.
Canadians appreciate the importance of the hospital in serving Israel’s northern population, regardless of religion. Jews, Muslims, Christians and Bah’ais all are treated there and can be found as members of the hospital’s staff, he said.
Rambam was the campus where Technion faculty members Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover conducted the chemistry research that earned each a Nobel Prize. Rambam staff co-operate with local high-tech firms to develop new drugs and devices. It is an incubator where staff come up with new ideas, develop them in conjunction with the private sector and test them at the hospital and other research facilities worldwide, Beyar said.
Canadian Friends of Rambam is a grass roots organization that assists the Rambam hospital provide medical services. For more information, email [email protected] or call Suzanne Kaye at 416.560.0546.