I attended a committee meeting at the Knesset yesterday regarding the impending mental health reform that is scheduled to go into effect on July 1st. At that time, all mental health services will be handed over from the Ministry of Health to the four health funds (kuppot cholim). This reform will impact eating disorder treatment, which was my interest in going to the meeting.
I received approval to attend the meeting through a friend, a fellow mom eating disorder advocate. I printed out the email with the approval just in case I had any problem getting into the Knesset. I had to give my name and ID # in advance for security purposes. When I presented my ID card to the security lady, she said that I didn’t have approval to go in. I showed her the email but she said that without approval in the computer, she couldn’t let me through.
The old me would have walked away at that point, but the new me did not get up at 6:00 in the freaking morning and travel to Jerusalem just to get locked out of the committee meeting; the new me doesn’t back down so easily. So I got out my phone and started calling the number on the email. I was told that they gave out way too many approvals and since there was not going to be enough space in the hall where the meeting was taking place, they rescinded some. I insisted that I never received an email rescinding my authorization and I kept saying “but I’m here already, can’t you just let me in”? Finally, after twenty minutes of calling back repeatedly since I kept getting hung up on (inadvertently, I believe), I got put back on the approved list and I was able to get through security.
In typical Israeli fashion, when you ask three different people for directions, you get three different answers. Finding the right hall in the Knesset was not easy, but I finally got there—only to find that I was once again locked out. Since they overextended the authorizations, there was indeed not enough space in the hall and it was already full. There were around fifteen people waiting outside when I got there, arguing with the security guard to please let them in. The guard told all of us that there were simply no seats left—he said that as people left the meeting, he would let us in one at a time to occupy the vacant chair. My heart sank at this point. There were so many people before me. And even after nineteen years in Israel, I would never cut a line. But I decided to wait around anyway.
I was rewarded for my patience when after around eight minutes of the disgruntled group trying to persuade the guard to let them in, one of the committee meeting organizers from the Knesset came out of the hall and apologized to us. The only thing that she could offer at this point is to bring in two folding chairs, and we had to decide between us who would go in to the meeting. She asked us all which hospital/health fund/mental health organization we represented. When she got to me, I totally fumbled. After a few false starts, I looked her straight in the eye and said “Look, I’m just a mom. I am the mom of a daughter with an eating disorder”.
And because I live in Israel, where the people are extraordinary beyond measure, something happened that I never expected. The woman next to me said to the meeting organizer “she’s a mom, let her through”, and everyone offered their approval. I was so caught off guard that I didn’t even have time to respond beyond a quick thank you to the group that I left behind outside the closed doors of the hall.
Overall, the meeting was frustrating. In true Knesset fashion, there was a lot of yelling. I cannot say one way or another whether the mental health reform will ultimately improve patient care or destroy it, but I can say that there are a lot of open issues and very little time to close them, and that makes me justifiably nervous. The only enlightenment that I gained on the topic of the mental health reform after sitting on a folding chair in a Knesset hall for two hours is that the parties involved are not going to be able to get their act together in time for the July 1st reform. There is going to be a lot of trial and error, and I shudder to think how many people will suffer from the “errors”.
I will continue to advocate for better eating disorder treatment and pray that the reform offers promise and not setbacks.
To those sensitive, compassionate people yesterday who deferred to the woman who was “just a mom” and literally gave up their seat for me, if you are representative of what mental health care in Israel looks like, we just may have a fighting chance of being okay.