In light of the financial collapse facing Sderot’s trauma facilities, Sderot Media Center invited British Ambassador Tom Phillips to visit with Sderot psychologists on Thursday, June 4 to receive an in-depth overview of the crisis.
The Ambassador first visited Sderot Media Center to learn more of the organization’s ‘citizen journalism’ and its social media activities on behalf of the Sderot community. Following the visit to the media center, Ambassador Phillips met with the heads of the Sderot Trauma Center and the Shock Treatment Center where he learned of the vital role that the trauma facilities play in rehabilitating the residents of the rocket-torn community.
As much of the world tuned into US Barack Obama’s monumental speech in Cairo, Ambassador Phillips heard the impassioned speeches of Sderot Trauma Center’s director, Dalia Yosef and the head of Shock Treatment Center, Dr. Adrianna Katz.
The directors of the trauma facilities reported that lack of funding will force both trauma centers to close down by December 2009.
Dr. Katz explained that the Shock Treatment Center was opened three years ago to provide immediate treatment to Sderot victims who experience shock after a Qassam attack. Inside the shock center, the Ambassador viewed the small room where shock patients are treated, which must cram as many as fifty patients at a time.
When told of the recent rocket that struck a Sderot residential neighborhood and sent eight people into shock, the Ambassador asked how PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) victims could be treated in an environment where there was no post to the rocket attacks.
"It is a big problem and a question that we have yet to answer," responded Dr. Katz. "Following the recent rocket attack in May, there have been over 60 new requests for treatment at the Sderot Mental Health Center." Dr. Katz, who also directs the Sderot Mental Health Center, said that out of the 6,000 patient files, over half involve post trauma cases.
"The closing of the shock center will mean that Sderot shock victims will have to be transported 20 minutes away to Ashkelon’s Barzilai, which was the standard procedure before the Sderot center was opened three years ago," Dr. Katz added.
At the Sderot Trauma Center, Ambassador Phillips met with the director, Dalia Yosef, who explained that the trauma center, also known as the Merkaz Hosen is the only facility in Sderot which offers treatment for children. "We have 1,000 patient files, and over 80 percent of our cases our children suffering from symptoms of PTSD. Eight years of Qassam rocket fire has produced a generation of ‘Qassam children’ who have no concept of normal life," said Yosef.
"We try to offer Sderot children and their parents the tools needed to deal with stress and shock." "Only this week, I had a mother break down, when she told me that the new bomb shelter in her home was complete. Although most Sderot parents have been reassured by the new bomb shelters, it was an unpleasant reality check for this particular mom. "
Yosef has a staff of 18 psychologists and social workers, all of whom she will be forced to fire once the funding for center runs out at the end of the year. Yosef explained that 50 percent of the center’s funding comes from NGOs, while Knesset ministries provide the other half.
"Until recently, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews had provided 50 percent of the funding to the trauma and shock center. Now the organization can no longer provide that funding," said Yosef.
Sderot Media Center has been pressuring Knesset members to secure further funding for the trauma facilities, alongside Dr. Katz and Dalia Yosef. Out of the NIS 6 million needed to keep five trauma centers in Sderot and the western Negev open, the Knesset has thus far provided NIS 1.5 million which will keep the centers going until December.
Ambassador Phillips, noticeably moved by his visit, stated to Yosef that he was impressed with the dedication that she and other Sderot psychologists have shown to the community even under the intensity of the rocket attacks.
The Ambassador’s visit to Sderot was spurred by a letter correspondence with SMC’s Anav Silverman. Silverman had written a letter to European Union ambassadors, pointing out that although the EU nations had graciously allocated funds for Palestinians who suffered the humanitarian consequences in the Gaza war, those living on the Israeli side and impacted by the war had received nothing. Silverman pointed out that both sides of the border deserved humanitarian aid.
Three embassies including Spain, the Netherlands and Britain responded to the letter, with the British Embassy following up in an on-site visit to Sderot. British Ambassador Phillips indicated at the end of the visit that he would bring the Sderot trauma facilities funding crisis to the attention of relevant international NGOs coordinating humanitarian aid.