Photo Credit: Bar-Ilan University
Dr. Sivan Spitzer-Shohat, Bar-Ilan University Azrieli School of Medicine.

The COVID-19 pandemic not only challenges health systems worldwide but highlights how heavily its effects land on some and how lightly on others. The Galilee region of Israel is no exception. Its societal composition of diverse minority groups, low socioeconomic challenges, reduced access to social network health updates, and markedly high prevalence of chronic morbidity — especially those which are already proven risk factors for COVID-19 such as diabetes, smoking, and chronic lung disease — overstretch and challenge healthcare providers in their ability to provide care and support.

Uniquely positioned within the Galilee healthcare ecosystem Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli School of Medicine has created, together with its affiliated hospitals, primary care clinics, local NGOs, and with the support of The Russell Berrie Foundation, a new bio-psycho-social-health platform to address the unique needs of the region during COVID-19, while teaching and training its students.

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Azrieli School of Medicine Dean Karl Skorecki noted: “As a school that aims to train excellent physicians who are committed to the community in which they practice, we worked together with our partners to develop a Galilee-based, three-tiered approach relevant not only for current times of crisis but that builds upon and further fortifies our operational structures in the Galilee.”

The BIU Azrieli School led a round table with its partners to determine how to care for COVID-19, as well as other neglected healthcare delivery, needs. The model developed is due to launch in the coming week and includes both students and faculty. Dr. Sivan Spitzer-Shohat, Head of Population Health Education and Principal Investigator of the Health Equity Advancement Lab (HEAL) at the Azrieli Faculty, is leading the project.

The bio-psycho-social health platform addresses the risk and adverse effects of COVID-19 in the Galilee through ‘Bio’ – supporting and increasing human resources for conducting COVID-19 testing across the Galilee; ‘Psycho-Social’– a medical student support service assisting HMOs and local NGOs in monitoring chronic care patients across the Galilee to mitigate worsening of chronic conditions, so that poor control and arising mental health issues do not leave these patients in worse healthcare condition once the pandemic wave is over; and improving the ‘Health’ care infrastructure by supplying Point Of Care UltraSound (POCUS) and training additional clinical faculty at BIU-affiliated clinics and centers on how to use the key screening tool to assess disease severity and the need for hospitalization during this crucial time. This trained cadre will not only assist in immediate corona pneumonitis screening, but also in incorporating this tool safely into clinical care and medical education in the Galilee long term.

This community-tailored, partnership-based 360-degree response not only deepens the commitment and partnership that exists between the Azrieli School and its partners in the Galilee ecosystem, but will serve as a long-term platform for educating medical students and improving health in the Galilee.

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