Patients in a hospital often refrain from calling a nurse because they do not want to desecrate the Shabbat by pressing a call button. Sometimes a patient is more stringent than the halacha actually requires.
There are also cases when the patient wants to contact the nurse's station for something that is not really a medical problem. For example, a patient might simply feel lonely. What can be done to relieve distress without desecrating Shabbat? Is there no way that a religious patient can call a nurse to ask for a cup of tea, to pick up a blanket that has fallen, or to change the angle of the bed in order to alleviate his or her pain?
The system that The Zomet Institute has developed to solve this dilemma is based on two halachic principles. The first is the continuation of an existing status, which is relevant for the most common type of light in the hallway (a prohibition involving turning on a glowing light, which is more serious than internal electronics or LED displays).
The second principle is that of gramma (indirect action) which is often used for medical and other essential equipment on Shabbat. When the patient presses the button in his or her room, the device notes the action within a few seconds using a gramma mechanism. If there is an LED near the patient's bed, it will be activated within at most five seconds, depending when in the gramma cycle the button was pressed.
As noted above, the lights in the hallway are often incandescent bulbs. Since the glowing filament is considered a "flame" on Shabbat, such bulbs present a more serious problem than the rest of the system. These are operated on Shabbat on the principle of maintaining an existing status. The lights are automatically turned on for an insignificantly short time during each thirty second cycle. At first, when a patient presses the signal button in his or her room, nothing happens. The only result is that the next time the hallway light goes on for a short time it will stay on until the nurse comes to the patient's room.
The nurse turns off the signal light in a similar way. After the patient presses the call button, the light in the hallway does not stay on continuously but regularly goes off for a short time. At first, nothing happens when the nurse comes to the patient's room and presses the cancellation button. But the next time that the bulb goes off, it returns to the original status of being off for most of the time in the cycle.
In this way, neither the patient nor the nurse directly turns on any electric circuit. They are only extending the operation of a circuit that is already on – and according to prominent rabbis this is permitted on Shabbat for urgent needs.
It should be noted that there are no incandescent bulbs in the most modern nurse signaling systems. Such systems can be operated by a mechanism of gramma. The Zomet Institute recommends replacing older lights in the hallways by more modern clusters of LED's with the same total intensity. A system without incandescent bulbs can be operated solely with a gramma mechanism, which is much simpler in halachic-technical terms.
Zomet Institute provides three levels of support for nurse signaling systems:
(1) Design and installation of complete systems, including equipment in the patient's rooms, in the hallway, in restrooms, and at the nurse's station.
(2) Design and supply of devices to be installed in an existing system in cooperation with the companies that originally supplied them.
(3) Providing consulting services for firms that make this type of equipment, advising them how to modify their systems to meet halachic requirements.
For details and prices, contact The Zomet Institute.