Nearly every month for the last decade, more than 1,000 people from across Israel and the world have visited ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran to see the village for themselves. By applying best practices from around the globe and creating their own for areas yet to be addressed, the residential complex in Israel’s south provides a host of rehabilitative solutions for individuals from all backgrounds and levels of need. And now, a new addition, the ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran Neuro-Orthopedic Rehabilitative Hospital, will add to the area.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has kept visitors away over the last several months, ALEH’s leadership continues in full force. While modeling ways to adapt to the new normal and shield its vulnerable residents with severe disabilities from COVID-19, it has also safely transitioned hundreds of outpatients who rely on the village as a rehabilitative lifeline back to a somewhat regular treatment schedule.

“This village was established with the express purpose of breaking the mold. The world needed a change—a place that would actually serve the community while also serving as a model of diversity and acceptance,” says Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog of the Israel Defense Forces and the chairman of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran.

“Because of the frameworks we established, rehabilitative and social miracles happen here every day,” he reports. “Our residents—children and young adults with severe disabilities who were given negative prognoses at birth—are living happy, dignified and meaningful lives. Because inclusion is second nature here, everyone feels like part of one big family. This new socially distanced life is especially difficult for us because we are so used to living an inclusive existence.”

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog and his son, Eran, at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran in 2012. Credit: Courtesy.

While searching for find proper care for his son, Eran, who was born with severe autism and intellectual disabilities, Almog discovered ALEH. He was so impressed that he helped expand its mission by advocating for a community where individuals with disabilities could live, learn and play side by side with their non-disabled peers.

“Instead of establishing rehabilitative resources or finding a place for individuals with disabilities in existing towns, it was time to build a multifaceted rehabilitation center capable of serving everyone’s needs, and then building housing and municipal resources around it,” says Almog. “This new socially distanced life is especially difficult for us because we are so used to living an inclusive existence.”

“This new socially distanced life is especially difficult for us because we are so used to living an inclusive existence.”

Fueled by his love for Eran, who lost his battle with Castleman’s disease in 2007 at the age of 23, Almog worked to make his dream a reality.

The village is now home to more than 150 children and young adults with severe disabilities and complex medical conditions. In addition, it provides outpatient care to thousands of individuals from Israel’s south, including dental care, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, and communication and speech therapy.

“Through HMOs and the Ministry of Defense, at least 100 civilians and soldiers from the Negev receive rehabilitative treatments in the village every day. This means that on any given day, there can be ALEH residents with severe disabilities, local students, soldiers, politicians and high-tech entrepreneurs all swimming together in the hydrotherapy pool,” explains Almog. “This is our inclusive reality, and the Negev and the rest of Israeli society are better for it.”

‘Always just the beginning’

As plans to expand the village take shape, the Neuro-Orthopedic Rehabilitative Hospital is nearing completion. While Israel is home to nearly 9 million people, there are fewer than 850 rehabilitative hospital beds in the entire country—none of them in Israel’s southern region. This state-of-the-art rehabilitative hospital, which will include 108 rehabilitative hospital beds and Israel’s first translational research institute, aims to solve these problems while also helping the Negev bloom.

A resident cares for his plants during a vocational workshop. Credit: Courtesy.

Thanks to the support of multiple government ministries, the Jewish National Fund and international donors, the hospital, which is set for completion in 2021, will increase the number of Israel’s rehabilitative hospital beds dramatically, bring quality care to the residents of the south, and create more housing and jobs in the Negev. Residences for the medical professionals who will work at the hospital are also being built adjacent to the village, widening its influence with its borders.

Through partnerships with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Johns Hopkins University, the Sheba Medical Center, the Weizmann Institute and Irbid University in Jordan, researchers at the hospital will study the trauma and recovery of everything from car accidents to COVID-19, which will be shared with hospitals across the country and the world to improve global best practices.

The next phase of expansion will begin with the construction of Merhavei Daniel, a 500-family township adjacent to the village that will integrate residents with disabilities and provide additional housing for the hospital staff.

“We never saw this village as the culmination of the dream,” states Almog. “It was always just the beginning. To continuously innovate and create the very best rehabilitative resources for the full spectrum of humanity, to never stop building towards a truly inclusive society—that’s the dream.”

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