by Claudia Levine

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to volunteer in the London office of Shaare Zedek.  Under the watchful eye of Simi Ben-Hur, the small but fantastic team accomplish great things to raise money for the hospital. In April I was lucky enough to visit the hospital with my fiancé, Benjamin Levine.  Audrey Gross gave us a fantastic tour, allowing us to see life behind the scenes in the hospital and where the money goes.

The friendly faces and welcoming exchanges from doctors, nurses and staff confirmed that the ‘hospital with a heart’ truly lives up to its strapline.  Everybody was keen to speak to us and, despite being a hospital, the atmosphere was uplifting. There are beautiful, thoughtful paintings and designs on all floors. A sculpture depicting each phrase in Tanach in which the Hebrew for heart, ‘Lev’, appears, adorns the wall of the cardiology ward, whilst children’s paintings hang brightly in the children’s ward. We were delighted to see one of the famous clowns in the hospital, not with children, but speaking to adult patients waiting for chemotherapy.

What really struck me was how well thought out each aspect of the hospital is.  We learnt that this is not achieved by the analysis of external advisors alone. Every time a new department is opened or redesigned, it is the nurses and doctors, who see day to day what is needed, whose opinions matter.

The cardiology department, for example, hosts in and out patients on the same floor with operating theatres too, meaning that an out-patient with an unexpected urgent issue needs only to cross the hallway to be admitted or even operated on.  Each patient in A+E has their details and exact timings of arrival and minutes they have been waiting logged in a system, displayed on a large flat-screen in the middle of the room, for all nurses, doctors and consultants to see. The data is even accessible on their phones, ensuring immediate care and accurate information is readily available.  No scribbles on a white board or easily misplaced paper notes here.

The care that new-borns and their families receive is simply amazing. The neonatal department boasts new ‘giraffe’ incubators. The removable lids and high-visibility design allow the care-givers to monitor and access the babies within them, without needing to move them or change the temperature they feel. Once babies are out of danger they remain under the care of the hospital in a different ward. There is a family room for parents to sleep and even a practice room for parents to have a trial night alone with their new born before they return home, safe in the knowledge that the medical staff can be called on if needed. So much is available to support the new borns’ parents, with even an expressing room enabling new Mums to produce milk to keep in the hospital for the nurses to give their child.

The care that patients receive clearly does not end after their time in Shaare Zedek. Cardiology patients, for example, are not left to struggle alone with necessary life-style changes to their diet and exercise. They are welcomed back to the hospital to make use of the exercise rooms filled with gym equipment and a healthy eating advice room with healthy foods on display to enable non-Hebrew speaking patients to recognise the items in shops. Men and women unfamiliar with treadmills, for example, are helped along by volunteers who show them what to do and stand next to them, encouraging. Surely better than struggling alone to keep on a treadmill for more than a few minutes in an unfamiliar atmosphere while a trim, running-pro strides away next to you!

Safety in the hospital is paramount and well thought-out. The newest building features bomb-proof shutters that can be closed over the windows, as well as entire bomb-proof floors. The car park can, if necessary, be used as a decontamination area with staff fully briefed on what to do in an emergency.

The visit was a wonderful opportunity to see exactly where the hard-work and money from staff and donors benefits. The plaques that proudly adorn walls throughout the hospital show the tremendous support that is received from around the globe. It is fortunate that so many wish to dedicate and share memories and life events with Shaare Zedek. The hospital receives minimal funding from the Israeli government so every donation, however small, is appreciated. We were fondly told of a lady who visited each department and asked what small thing would make a difference to them. Because of her, children with speech difficulties now have bubbles to blow as a simple and effective tool to help them develop.

Seeing the hospital in ‘real life’ showed what a huge impact donations have. It was particularly special to see a plaque dedicated to a late relative of Benjamin, and we were inspired to make a donation to Shaare Zedek on the occasion of our upcoming wedding. We really can’t think of a better way to share our love and happiness than to help this magnificent hospital with its incredible work.