The Health and Finance Ministries have invited Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center -- which has become the capital’s largest and most medically active hospital -- to run its financially ailing competitor, Bikur Cholim Hospital.

This was disclosed at a Sunday morning meeting of SZMC’s annual international board of directors meeting, held at the medical center.

Bikur Cholim, which has 170 beds compared to SZMC’s 730, has been suffering for the past decade from a "severe managerial crisis," said SZMC director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy. This crisis included the purchase of Bikur Cholim’s buildings by Russian oligarch Arkady Gaydamak. Halevy told the board meeting that the ministries chose his hospital for this task, but that while there were both pros and cons to take over Bikur Cholim (but not purchasing it), there was a "50-50 chance" that SZMC would actually do it,The Jerusalem Post learned.

"The ministries told us that they chose us in view of our relatively stable financial situation, location and our vast activity in deliveries and neonates, We went into Bikur Cholim’s books, using a professional company, to see the financial risks. We are continuing negotiations with the government, which would provide us with funds." Halevy added that while the Bikur Cholim edifices are "beautiful from the outside, this is not the case with the infrastructure inside. Only recently, old pipes burst. The buildings go back almost a century."

Among the potential benefits of SZMC taking over Bikur Cholim would be that it would have a total of nearly 1,000 beds and be among the largest hospitals in the country; not have to spend its own money to do so; would receive some of the donations that Bikur Cholim used to receive but that nearly dried up because philanthropists did not want to give to a financially troubled institution; would have a "stronghold in the center of town"; and it would have a total of 21,000 profit-making deliveries a year.

But Halevy said that the cons included "Bikur Cholim’s poor infrastructure owned by Gaydamak; our own currently inadequate managerial resources to run it; and an inadequate number of medical staffers due to the shortage in the country. We will agree only if the ministries satisfy our financial and operational expectations," the director-general said.

In any case, Halevy produced a "very optimistic" report for the board members from Israel and abroad.

Independent comparative statistics have shown that SZMC has become the city’s largest and most medically active hospital, significantly ahead of Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem or its counterpart on Mount Scopus, and of course, Bikur Cholim.

SZMC totaled 100,000 emergency room visits in 2010, compared to 75,000 in Ein Kerem and 60,000 on Mount Scopus, and the trend continues. Two decades ago, SZMC had only a quarter of its current total. By the end of this year, Halevy predicted, the figure will rise even higher, to 114,000. Bikur Cholim’s emergency visits are down to 22,000 (previously 25,000).

The number of babies born at SZMC is three times that of any other Jerusalem hospital and the highest in the country, now surpassing Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba. SZMC performs twice as many operations today as a decade ago. But at the same time, it is not well known to people in Tel Aviv and beyond.

"The reasons for his medical center’s success in recent years, he said, are its "very dedicated staff, with a warm doctor-patient relationship of caring plus high-tech medicine," and a senior medical staff with many "stars," some of whom were imported from Hadassah. Halevy also told the board that it expects within a year or so to have eliminated the SZMC’s deficit and no longer to have to use donor money for hospital operations.

He added that while SZMC performs some procedures, including surgery, on foreign tourists, it would put less stress on medical tourism than other Israeli hospitals so it could continue to give priority to Israelis. "We may reconsider this as our new Next Generation building [for maternity, obstetrics and other departments] is fully complete in 2014," he said. The new building, seen by all who enter the main building, will add more than a third more space.

Donations from foreign and Israeli contributors are up, starting to bounce back after the world recession of 2008/9 that severely hit the American-Jewish sector. Donations from the UK are second to US contributions, he said. Just as the Hadassah Medical Organization received money from the Treasury to help build its hospitalization tower, Shaare Zedek will receive $10 million for its development projects as well, Halevy said.

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