As soon as the dimensions of the traumatic events in Meron on Lag Be’Omer became known, Mayanei Hayeshua’s Mental Health Centre urgently set up a dedicated Emergency Help Desk and Hotline. Manned round the clock by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers, the Hotline fielded thousands of calls from anxious family members of the dead and the injured. The mental health support provided by the team even extended to accompanying families during and after the funerals of their loved ones. In order to widen the scope of the operation and to further increase the effectiveness of the emergency hotline, the hospital took the unusual step of also publishing the personal phone numbers of the team.
Professor Rael Strous, the hospital’s chief psychiatrist and medical director of the Mental Health Centre, is regarded nationally and internationally as an expert in treating trauma. He says that there are inevitable ripples of trauma after an event like Meron. “There is the trauma of the families and friends of the victims. There is the trauma of the injured and their families. There is the trauma of those who witnessed the disaster. There is the trauma – and guilt – of people who had planned to go to Meron but did not travel in the end. There is the trauma of the first responders and medical professionals who are dedicated to saving lives but who never experienced scenes like those at Meron. In addition, the ripples of post-traumatic distress even extend to first responders who were present at the scene of previous disasters.”
Dr Dorit Tekes-Manova, the hospital’s medical director, said that a unique factor that has facilitated and driven Mayanei Hayeshua’s rapid response to the Meron emergency is that so many people who were present at the site are orthodox: “This is the very community that has learned to trust the hospital’s sensitive approach to trauma and mental health issues. They know where to turn in times of distress.”
On the heels of the Meron disaster, everyone in Israel faced a new trauma. Once again, as tensions boiled over between Israel and the Hamas terror group that controls Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Israeli families had to rush to the safety of private and public shelters when over 4,000 deadly missiles rained down on communities across Israel. For the first time, the rockets were aimed at population centres in areas with large orthodox populations. Mayanei Hayeshua was quick to extend its emergency mental health response infrastructure to help a yet-again traumatised community. Anyone affected by the missile emergency was encouraged to contact the hospital. The hospital also instituted a dedicated internal support service for the staff of Mayanei Hayeshua who were actively involved in dealing with the trauma and anxiety caused by the missile emergency and the Meron tragedy.
The hospital’s CEO, Shlomo Rothschild, reiterated that the hospital’s ethos has always been to be there for the community, whether for physical ailments or for mental health issues. “Although the missile attacks have thankfully ceased, the impact on families having to scurry to safety with just a few seconds’ warning will remain with us for a long time. This is why we are going to keep the emergency measures in place as long as they are needed.”