Ya'acov Litzman, the deputy health minister.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman demanded that mayors and chairmen of local authorities help pay for emergency medical facilities in the Galilee at a tense meeting in Safed on Monday.
At the meeting with some 20 northern mayors and the Citizens’ Forum for Health Promotion in the Galilee, Litzman said that unless the local authorities covered a third of the cost – about NIS 500,000 – they would not get such facilities.
The meeting, held in office of Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat, was called to discuss health disparities between the center of the country and the periphery. Shohat argued that it was not the job of mayors to finance health services but the responsibility of those in charge of the National Health Insurance Law.
“Mayors need not collect arnona [property tax] to cover health services. It is the Health Ministry’s job,” he argued.
Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka refused to attend the meeting with Litzman after the emergency room facility in his city was closed. instead, he sent Eli Za’afrani, his deputy, who charged that residents of the area “were doomed to die” because of the closure. But Litzman insisted that no such facilities would be established unless mayors “do their part.”
Despite the argument, some progress was made by the Citizens’ Forum for Health Promotion in the Galilee, which is a Jewish-Arab partnership. It was agreed that financial arrangements will be made between the four health funds and local hospitals on treating residents in the north. Litzman said that an MRI institute will be established in every hospital, with a queue for scanning of no more than three days per patient.
Ma’alot-Tarshiha Mayor Shlomo Buhbut said, “If the situation does not improve we will cease to be silent, and if we must we will disable education services and apply pressure.” “After six o’clock at night, when the health clinic closes, we are only provided with partial, limited services. When we requested more we were told to pay for it from the municipal fund. Why do I need to fund a medical center? We have a National Health Insurance Law, and health funds are generously funded. I’m sorry, it is not my job to treat heart disease,” he added.
Shfaram Mayor Amin Enbatawi said: “The government asks poor local authorities that barely manage to exist to reach a hand deep into their pockets to fund prevention programs, such as part-time health promoters in schools and setting up emergency rooms.
“The time has come to say ‘No!’ to the government. We need organized health departments in local authorities, and an increase in community health and illness prevention services, but we need a budget for this. We want to be partners of the ministry, and we ask that the lion’s share of the billions of shekels added to the health budget be allocated for the benefit of the periphery,” he said.
Hatzor Haglilit Mayor Shimon Suissa noted: “I do not understand why they expect us to finance half the budget of the unit for child development! A National Health Law was passed and health services must be provided from the health budget. We don’t have a budget and for this our children pay a high price. Our children are disadvantaged from the first day of their lives compared to the children in the center of the country... The fact that in Ra’anana life expectancy is seven years longer than in Nazareth is alarming and indicates that it is time for change.”
Liat Ben Adiva, an activist in the forum, said it was wrong to compare the north with the center, as there are cities such as Tel Aviv that have several hospitals and are not asked to finance health services. Demanding that the periphery help pay for such facilities is unfair, she said.
Dr. Muhammad Khatib, another forum activist, said the Arab sector is “twice discriminated against” – as residents of the periphery and as Arabs. “Our health system is in the deep freeze. Hospital directors avoid opening new departments even though they are needed, and an institution that does so would drown in debts. This is what happened in the new rehabilitation department at Emek Medical Center in Afula,” he said.
According to ministry statistics from 2010, life expectancy in the Safed district was 77.7 years, compared to the national figure of 79.7 years; infant mortality in the north was 9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to the national rate of four per 1,000. The number of doctors was 1.6 per 1,000 people in the north, while the national average was 3.3 per 1,000.
The number of nurses employed in the northern districts was 4.2 per 1,000 people, in comparison with the national average of 5.2. The north had 1.5 hospital beds available per 1,000 people, compared to the national figure of 2 per 1,000.
Litzman was in Safed also to dedicate the new MRI unit at the state’s Ziv Medical Center together with hospital director-general Dr. Salman Zarka.