Dr. Rafael Beyar, director-general of the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, is presiding over the hospital’s construction of a $350 million underground hospital for use in case of another war.
A professor of medicine and biomedical engineering, Beyar received his medical degree from the Tel Aviv University School of Medicine. He has been Rambam’s director-general since 2006. He previously founded the Technion’s Heart System Research Center and was the former dean of its Faculty of Medicine. The Jewish Week caught up with him recently when he was in New York.
Jewish Week: Please describe the new hospital.
Rafael Beyar: It is a three-level 1,400 car underground parking garage that in 48 hours can be turned into a hospital. The plan is to inaugurate it at the end of August. The opening was delayed because of construction problems. They are now on an accelerated construction schedule, working day and night to finish it.
What prompted its construction?
The concept evolved after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when we were under missile attack for a whole month. Ours is the only tertiary care hospital in northern Israel. We are a 950-bed hospital that takes care of all regular medical needs for cardiovascular, cancer, medical and surgical patients; we plan to grow to 1,200 beds in five years. We are also the largest trauma center in all of Israel.
How is the design of this building different?
In the walls of the parking lot we have installed the infrastructure to turn it into a hospital during war – all of the oxygen, electronic medical equipment, wireless connections including air conditioning and vacuum tubes for patients. We will have the capacity underground of 2,000 beds. I can tell you that in the Yom Kippur War [in 1973] we had 2,000 injured in the hospital at one point, so it was decided in conjunction with the government of Israel that 2,000 beds is a must.
What about staff?
We currently have a staff of 4,500 people — including 1,000 physicians and 1,500 nurses. Most of them will be with patients underground. The facility can hold 7,000 at times of conflict because the staff increases with volunteers who come from other places to help.
Will you be moving all of your equipment underground?
We will have some extra equipment specifically for the underground, such as vacuum tubes and oxygen. But ventilators, monitors and anesthesia machines will be moved from the main hospital.
I understand you worked underground during the 2006 war.
Yes, we had an underground space at the main hospital that could only contain about 150 patients — including corridor space. It was improvised and we had to improvise air conditioning and chemical toilets — they were very difficult conditions to stay in.
Are other hospitals considering building similar underground facilities?
Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon is in the initial stages of bulding. There probably will be other hospitals with fortified facilities to some extent, but I’m not aware of anyone doing anything of this size. … In 2006, at least 60 missiles fell within 1 kilometer of our hospital. I can assure you that the threat is still there and it may be even bigger with the instability with see in the Middle East — in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.
What kind of protection will the underground hospital have?
It’s going to be fortified against bombs and shells and chemical warfare – and we know there are chemical weapons in the Middle East that can fall into the hands of people who will use them. Our facility has filters in the air conditioning that will take care of that.
What are you planning to build above the parking garage?
Four buildings that will represent the future of medicine in the north. There will be a cancer hospital, a children’s hospital, a cardiovascular hospital, and a biomedical discovery tower that will have innovations in medicine.
It’s a prime location because it’s between the Technion Faculty of Medicine and the hospital. We have been working with the Technion over the last four decades. And we recently launched a joint project with Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem for research and clinical therapy for blood cancer. One of the world’s leading experts, professor Jacob Rowe, our director of the department of hematology and bone marrow transplantation for 20 years, now heads the same department at Shaare Zedek. He is the focus of the collaboration between our two institutions — one of the few times that a strategic alliance has been developed between two major hospitals in Israel in terms of clinical and research.