History of the Hospital

A Chronicle of Events:  The History of the Bnai Zion Medical Center

The Bnai Zion Medical Center was established in 1922 as the first Jewish hospital in Haifa. Throughout the years, we have provided dedicated medical care, services and education to the growing population of northern Israel, and have fostered and enabled breakthrough research in a variety of medical areas.

Haifa's First Jewish Hospital 1922 - 1932

When established in 1922 by the Hadassah Medical Organization, the Medical Center was the first and only Jewish hospital in the city. Its beginning was modest:  there were only 45 beds in a rented building and 7 physicians.

In 1924 the Baroness Ada de Rothschild donated her land to the hospital and it expanded to include a very busy outpatient clinic, where ophthalmology, internal medicine, ear-nose-and-throat, pediatric and neurology services were offered.

The outpatient clinics offered special services such as

  • eye care to children in all Hebrew schools in Haifa;
  • treating new immigrants;
  • treating newborn babies;
  • providing medical care and follow-up to pregnant women;
  • treating dermatologic diseases among children in all Hebrew schools.

Crisis and Dramatic Change:  Hadassah Withdraws from the Hospital

Hadassah dramatically cut back on its budget for Israel during the 1920s, no doubt a consequence of the Great Depression in the U.S. At the end of 1931 the international management of Hadassah announced that because of its difficult financial situation, it could no longer operate the hospital in Haifa. The hospital was turned over to the Haifa Jewish Community Administration. Funds were scarce, as neither the British Government of Palestine nor agencies from abroad provided assistance.

On the Frontlines with Disagreements about Aliyah

As the first Jewish hospital in the city, the Medical Center was obliged to fulfill important national roles that were not purely defined as medical issues, such as dealing with the Teheran children and the Patria disaster.  At the time, some of the leaders of the country thought the hospital, as a Jewish institution, could be used for national purposes in addition to medical ones during the fight for independence.

The Hagana planned to establish an underground radio station at the hospital, and with its strategically desirable location on the Carmel mountains range, there were even plans to cooperate with the Mossad, but those plans were cancelled because of the danger involved.

Expansion Begins 1942

Population growth and the resulting demand for medical services motivated construction of a new building in 1942. The hospital became known as the Rothschild Hospital, in honor of the family that had donated the land and funds for its construction, and it included 85 beds, three departments and a laboratory.

In 1946 the school of nursing was opened. Rented space was used as a maternity ward and in times of heightened need, as a center for additional services, which included caring for illegal immigrants who continued to bypass the British Port Authority at the Haifa Port.  As the only Jewish hospital, it also treated wounded members of the underground military organizations of the Jewish community, the Hagana, Etzel and Lechi.

Independence and Immigration 1948 - 1967

During the War of Independence, the Rothschild Hospital was the only medical facility in Haifa available to treat the wounded and infirm Jewish population and soldiers. In 1949 management of the Rothschild Hospital was turned over to the Haifa municipality, and another floor was soon added to relieve crowded conditions by increasing the number of beds. Gradually the hospital developed into an internationally famous institute of medicine, providing modern services and equipment in what became, by 1967, a 330-bed hospital. It was then transferred to joint government-municipal ownership.

In 1966 the government took over the financing of municipal hospitals.

In 1975 the hospital was transferred to government ownership, and today the staff of the hospital are employed by the municipality.

Since the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in 1969, the hospital has been affiliated with the Technion and functions as a university teaching hospital.

Planning the West Wing in 1972

By 1972, over-crowded conditions were detrimental to patient care. This situation, coupled with the desire to implement new medical techniques led to the decision to expand and establish a new wing that would double the size of the facility.

The cornerstone of the new west wing was laid in 1973. Unfortunately, a few days after work had just begun, the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War halted all construction.

In addition, the high inflation rate and immense defense budget forced the government to cut back on its aid to public institutions, which included hospitals.

However, despite these setbacks, the first stage was completed in 1978. In 1982 the emergency department was re-opened and in 1984, the orthopedic department was transferred to its new location in the west wing. But in 1985, construction of the emergency department came to a halt because of lack of budget.

The Hospital Is Renamed Bnai Zion Medical Center in 1988

In 1987 the Bnai Zion Foundation in the U.S. made a commitment to raise the necessary funds for the completion of the west wing project.

In October 1988 the hospital was renamed the Bnai Zion Medical Center in honor of the Bnai Zion contribution. Since then, most of the clinical departments, laboratories and facilities have gradually been moved into the new west wing.

The hospital is continuously evolving. A leading medical institution -- known for advanced medical treatment, for having an environment where the comfort of the patient is paramount, and for its infrastructure held to a high standard -- the Medical Center provides outstanding care to the citizens of Haifa and the other northern Israeli communities.

Bnai Zion Medical Center in Numbers

A general hospital with 450 beds
Land area: 18 dunams (approximately 4.5 acres)
Building area: 40,000 square meters (approximately 430,000 square feet)
Affiliated with the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine of the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology)
Averaging 142,000 visits per year among 65 outpatient clinics
More than 65,000 visits annually to the emergency department
14,000 surgical procedures done per year
3,000 children choose to be born at our facility annually
1,800 employees

Historical Surgical Procedures

In June 1941 at the border of Israel and Syria, the British army was planning to invade Syria and a small group of warriors comprised of Australian soldiers and members of the Palmach (the Hebrew abbreviation of Plugot Mahatz) headed by an Australian officer and Moshe Dayan were sent to capture two strategic bridges. During the operation a French bullet punctured the telescope Dayan was using, with shrapnel affecting his right eye. He was quickly transferred to Hadassah hospital in Haifa, where doctors had to uproot his eye. Dayan’s surgeons never imagined they would design the image of one of Israel's military icons, whose picture is internationally recognized.

In November 1945 a young employee of the electric company was riding his bicycle when he suddenly hit a truck and hurt his leg. He was transferred to Hadassah hospital in Haifa, registered as 23-year-old Yitzhak Rabin from Kibbutz Alonim.  Undisclosed to the medical staff was the fact that Rabin was not really working for the electric company but rather for the Palmach, and he was conducting a patrol toward an attack on a British observation post. Rabin underwent surgery on his broken foot, a successful procedure except his leg was shortened by 2cm, which he managed to effectively disguise all his life. He subsequently advanced through all the levels of the IDF, becoming its Chief of Staff, and later became Israel’s minister of defense, then prime minster, a great military leader and broker of peace.
The patient chart for Rabin indicates he was hospitalized for 17 days, during which he was given a variety of medications including penicillin, which was then a new invention in medicine.

The First Artificial Kidney in the Middle East

Hadassah hospital was not affiliated with the Technion, the only higher academic institution in Haifa at that time, but thanks to a “good neighbor” relationship, practical cooperation was advanced between the hospital and Technion. The main focus of this cooperation was the development of an artificial kidney -- the first in the Middle East, and among the first in the world.

The first artificial kidney was designed by Willem Kolff in Holland in 1945 and was successfully tried and evaluated. The machine for it was quite big and cumbersome, and a smaller model was built in 1947. Also in this year, the head of the Hadassah chemistry laboratory, Dr. Kurt Steinitz, started to design a dialysis machine with technical work being done by staff at Technion, and after a long process the new machine was constructed. The first patient to use the machine was a member of the Hagana who suffered from anuria (failure of the kidneys to produce urine). Although the experiment was successful, the patient

Protecting the Future:  Building a New Protected Emergency Department

Israel must be fortified from any attack from the north
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"The situation is not if we'll suffer another missile attack, but when. We must be prepared."
Amnon Rofe, MD
CEO, Bnai Zion Medical Center

The Bnai Zion Medical Center is a leading urban hospital that serves the communities of northern Israel, providing compassionate care without regard to one's ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or economic background.

The hospital was on the frontlines of battle when Haifa was attacked during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Outstanding medical care was provided to more than 500 physically and psychologically citizens and IDF soldiers wounded by Hezbollah missiles.
History has shown the rockets of Israel’s enemies are aimed at its citizens and Israel’s hospitals are particularly targeted. Because the emergency room remains vulnerable to attack, building a new, protected underground unit fortified against nuclear, biological, and chemical attack is the priority of the hospital.

This state-of-the-art facility will be designed to have 30 beds, 2 trauma rooms and 6 professional clinics, as well as a protected hospitalization department for ongoing care with 90 beds and a complete range of services, treatment rooms, doctors’ offices, a pharmacy, storage and other features at a cost of $8 million.

The Need is Real – The Need is Now!

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