Lately I’ve been thinking about another volunteer, a man I met formerly during a Sar-el program and with whom I just worked again on another session of Sar-el. His name is Zvi Gellis. Professor Gellis is director of the Penn Center for Mental Health and Aging, director of the Ann Nolan Reese Penn Aging Concentration, a Hartford National Faculty Scholar/Research Mentor, and an expert in mental health services research concerned with older patients. I talked with him after work hours one day, standing in the sun outside our quarters. He is an intense, trim young man of good spirit and ready laugh. For a few minutes, we reminisced about other places in Israel where we had volunteered, and then I asked him about his work.
Gellis is on sabbatical this year. As well as volunteering, he has met with staff of one of the Israeli hospitals with hopes of creating a pilot program, here in Israel, for the use of telehealth. Telehealth is a distance monitoring program for chronically ill older patients (65 and older) who struggle with heart disease, diabetes, COPD etc.
In the telehealth project, with which Gellis works in the States, there exists a central monitoring station run by nurses and social workers. I asked him why social workers, and he explained that chronic diseases and depression are often twins, so the program treats the complete phenomenon of the illness. The central station is connected electronically with the patients’ homes and thus, the patients, who have their own monitors, can be anywhere, near or far from the main station. Once a day, the patients simply get online and are monitored by the nurses/social workers. If there are problems, the nurse can teleconference with the patient, to determine what needs to be done.
The system is cost effective — something we all need in our health care system — and as I listened to Gellis talk, I thought that it also has the added benefit of allowing patients to work along with the medical staff rather than being passive receptors of care.
Israel exports more life-saving medical technology per capita than any other country. Surely part of the reason is Israel’s lively relationships and technical and experimental exchange with professionals of other nations, like Gellis and the other men and women who work for the benefit of us all.