Six senior oncologists and three medical residents from Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem on Sunday submitted their employee cards in protest of the management of the Hadassah Medical Organization by director- general Prof. Zeev Rotstein.
The masse resignation is the culminating act of an affair that has shaken the health system for the past six months.
The doctors, headed by Prof.
Michael Weintraub, maintained that they could no longer work with Rotstein, especially after he decided to unite the pediatric and adult bone-marrow transplant departments at the facility.
Furthermore, the physicians, who are experts in treating children’s blood cancers, argued that Rotstein has been putting his interest in “profiting” from treating children with cancer from Russia, the Palestinian Authority and elsewhere for NIS 500,000 a piece at the expense of treating Israeli Jewish and Arab children with leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma and other malignancies.
This week alone, three children from abroad will undergo bone marrow transplants, and since January, the number of transplants, mostly in foreigners, has multiplied five-fold, said Weintraub.
Meanwhile, parents of Israeli children with blood and other cancers, gathered in a large tent on Sunday in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park to express their fury against Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and Rotstein for their “mishandling and lies” of the situation.
Although the tent was dubbed by the ministry as a “field hospital” of cancer children, no sick youngsters were actually treated there. With 16 hospital beds separated by curtains, and parents, siblings and some sick children present, it was actually a “protest tent.” The parents’ group also sponsored banners on Jerusalem buses, attacking Litzman for allegedly endangering the children.
Children needing acute treatment for a fever or other complication will be taken to emergency rooms, presumably to the capital’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center – to which Litzman has refused to grant a license for performing pediatric allogeneic (from foreign donors) bone marrow transplants – or will temporarily be taken to qualified pediatric hemato-oncology departments in the center of the country.
Litzman pushed through the appointment of Rotstein to run the financially troubled HMO 18 months ago, despite opposition from various sectors. Since then, the minister has given the director-general total backing “to justify the appointment,” the parents and doctors charge.
Roni Ofir, the parent of a young girl with cancer who sat for a moment on his lap, denounced Litzman and Rotstein and called for intervention by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his wife, Sara, to save the children.
The handful of doctors brought in by Rotstein at the last minute to care for the children will remain without work, except to care for the foreign children whose parents obtained funding for bone marrow transplants and follow up.
The nine doctors receive relatively low salaries and work even on weekends and late at night, without benefiting from the private medical service (Sharap) available in other departments.
Weintraub, Ofir and Elyad Shraga – the lawyer who has been volunteering his time to present their case to the ministry to allow Shaare Zedek to open a department that could hire the resigning physicians en masse – accused Litzman and Rotstein of “lies, incompetence, evil behavior and lawlessness” in their handling of the affair.
“There are only 1.5 doctors at Hadassah now who are experts in hemato-oncology. The rest are pediatricians; it is not a department,” said Shraga, who claimed that in documents he presented to the High Court of Justice on Thursday calling on the justices to force Litzman to issue a license for a new department to Shaare Zedek, there is evidence “that the health minister ordered the general government hospitals not to accept the nine physicians as employees.”
The parents and resigning doctors said that they also objected to Rotstein’s initiative to unite HMO’s pediatric and adult hemato-oncology departments, even though the children have very different needs. The doctors and parents said that most of the doctors brought in by Rotstein know how to transplant bone marrow but lack the comprehensive and specialized skills of those who resigned, including no one who was an expert in brain cancers.
Others will be only part-time replacements from Sheba Medical Center, which Rotstein previously headed.
They noted that with the resignation of the nine, “20% of hemato-oncology experts in the country have left,” and that there is a severe shortage of such specialists because of low salaries, heavy pressure and emotional stress due to deaths of those youngsters whose treatment does not succeed.
HMO spokeswoman Hadar Elboim declined to comment before or after the tent press conference.
Ofir said the children are deeply hurt over the fact they will lose not only the doctors who have treated them devotedly for months and followed up with them for years, but also the other children who have become their friends, lending each other emotional support.
The six veteran oncologists are “our angels who know our children so well. They are their anchor to hold onto. Litzman is the health minister of Ukrainians, Russians, Chinese and others, but not of Israeli children.”
Michael and Sarah Balulu, ultra-Orthodox residents of the Givat Shaul neighborhood whose seven-old-daughter, Ora, contracted neuroblastoma (a serious malignant growth in the brain) three years ago, told The Jerusalem Post that the nine physicians were “right to resign.
Rotstein’s policies are wrong. He has brought in mostly part-time doctors from other hospitals to fill in. We are looking for another hospital. Rotstein had the chutzpa to say to our medical team that ‘the cemeteries are full of people who think they are irreplaceable.’” Asked to comment, Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson issued a statement before the press conference was held.
No ministry official came to hear what the parents and doctors said.
By “providing medical care in a field-hospital tent,” the ministry spokesman said, “the doctors were endangering the children and liable to expose them to infections and allergens.”
None of the children were or will be treated in the tent.
The ministry announced in the late afternoon that Litzman, ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov and Dr.
Vered Ezra, head of the ministry’s medical administration, carried out a “professional tour of the new pediatric hemato- oncology department” to meet the additional doctors and hear about its preparations to treat the children with cancer.
Litzman “greatly praised” the new physicians including Dr. Paulina Stepansky, Dr. Guy Goldstein, Dr. Yossi Laber, Dr.
Iris Kwancel, Dr. Amos Thorn and others for their “full support and professionalism that will stand alongside the treated children, while maintaining the highest level of treatment.”