Bikur Cholim 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Seventeen days before Jerusalem’s venerable Bikur Cholim Hospital is scheduled to close its doors due to a lack of funds and the absence of a NIS 30 million Treasury grant, the Knesset Finance Committee demanded that the Finance and Health Ministries “bring a solution within eight days” and keep it running.
The 141-year-old institution, which has some 700 employees and is the only hospital in the center of town, was purchased a few years ago by Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak, who promised to keep it going for a long period. But as his financial losses in Israel grew, he halted all financial support and even demanded rent for the physical facilities from the voluntary organization, headed by former Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar, that runs the hospital.
Everyone at the Knesset committee session – except Treasury budgets official Moshe Bar-Siman Tov – came out strongly in favor of Bikur Cholim, which has some departments that are among the best in the country and which serves as a community hospital for haredim in the area.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman stated that he would do all he could to help Bikur Cholim continue, but added that he did not control the state’s purse strings.
“If I don’t hear from the Treasury that it will transfer the money [the NIS 30 million grant in installments over the next year], I can’t do anything,” said Litzman.
“We’re not asking the Treasury to finance the hospital’s ongoing costs, but only a one-time grant that will allow it to survive and function,” he added.
At present, the hospital staffers – who have a total of 1,400 children to support – are lending management over NIS 1 million a month by agreeing to a temporary cut of 22 percent to 35% of their wages.
Blachar said the Treasury was trying to “recycle old ideas such as unifying Bikur Cholim with the Hadassah Medical Organization or Shaare Zedek Medical Center, but the significance of that is closure. They have no interest in keeping it going. They would take Bikur Cholim’s centers of excellence – such as obstetrics, the neonatal unit and cardiology – and dry everything else up.”
The question, said Blachar, “is whether we’re closing the hospital or not. If we don’t get help, then let’s close it now.”
The new chairman said that the hospital could function without losses if the state grant were given.
Nurses and doctors said they had devoted their lives and careers to the hospital and its patients and saved many lives, especially during the intifadas when terror attacks were an almost-daily occurrence.
Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, a physician who was previously a senior Shaare Zedek administrator, said Bikur Cholim should not be closed and that all public and voluntary hospitals had received state aid in the past. Laniado Medical Center in Netanya, a nonprofit institution established by Sanz hassidim, got NIS 60m. from the Treasury a few years ago.
But Adatto added that Bikur Cholim had been badly run in the past (former board head Dudi Zilbershlag is suspected of stealing NIS 1.6m. from the voluntary organization that has run it since Gaydamak purchased the premises). She also said there had been “shameful agreements over and under the table.”
But she called Blachar a “professional who deserves the credit and opportunity to succeed in his job.”
The hospital’s legal adviser said that Gaydamak was legally bound to finance the hospital’s functioning and that since he hadn’t given it an agora for over a year, it would sue him.
Bar-Siman Tov said the main question was whether the health system needed Bikur Cholim, and that the Treasury was studying this matter. Asked by Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) how long this would take, the Treasury official said, “I can’t say. We will try to do it quickly.”
But deputy hospital director Yanai Dagan said that talks with the
Treasury had already been going on for three months. He added that the
hospital would have to close on December 31 without the grant, as the
company that insures it and its staff said it would halt coverage at the
end of the year.
Gafni said his committee did not have any executive powers, but could put pressure and make demands on the Treasury.
The Israel Medical Association said it welcomed the committee’s decision
to give an eight-day ultimatum to the Treasury and demanded a permanent
solution to ensure the hospital’s future.