A personal touch behind the mask at Hadassah


“Even in these complicated times, the connection with the patients is important — perhaps more now than ever,” says Professor Alon Hershko, director of Hadassah Ein Kerem Internal Medicine Department C, and in this crisis, daily involved in treating COVID-19 patients.

Hershko’s mantra is putting the patient front and center, from the smallest touches to make them feel more at ease to leading a national campaign urging patients to get the care they need right now. During the current crisis his days are also filled with treating corona victims.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily working harder,” he says. “I think medical staff always work incredibly hard. It’s just a different kind of hard.”

Hershko insists that his staff manage to make time for the human side of their relationship with patients. He instructed all his team to pin smiling photos of themselves to their protective clothing so patients can identify the faces behind the masks.

“This definitely helps connect, bring close and make the experience more personal when a doctor or nurse enters the room to check, treat, care for or update patients. They are here alone, far from everything they love and need. Their connection is with us and we must all wear our best smile.”

He was surprised recently to receive a letter of praise and thanks for the personal attention patients received from Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the New York based head of the Satmar Hassidim. Hershko and staff saved the life of leading Israeli rabbi, nonagenarian Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss who had contracted COVID-19.

Hershko has deep Hadassah roots — he was born at Hadassah Hospital in 1965; his father, Chaim Hershko, was a professor of hematology at Hadassah; his sister, Professor Dorith Shaham, heads Hadassah’s Thoracic Imaging Center;  his wife, dermatologist Klilah Hershko, studied at Hadassah, and their daughter, Anat, is an intern in the hospital.

Hershko is president of the Israel Association of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and has been urging patients with serious diseases not to avoid treatment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re talking about those receiving biologics and asthma and allergy sufferers,” says Hershko.“They need to receive regular treatment without changes to their routine.”

Hadassah oncologists and cardiologists issued similar statements in recent days after cardiologists reported an increase in numbers of those delaying arrival at Hadassah’s emergency rooms, despite having a heart attack.

But it’s the COVID-19 patients that largely occupy Hershko’s thoughts. “I think we’re overcoming this in Hadassah without it becoming a crisis, as opposed to some hospitals in other countries,” he says.

“Regarding Hadassah, I think our success is almost 100 percent down to the staff. The administration, doctors and nurses are working as one.