The ultra-Orthodox management of Jerusalem’s financially troubled Bikur Cholim Hospital has unilaterally cut the salaries of all 610 workers by 30 percent, inducing many of them to look for another place of work, according to medical director Dr. Raphael Pollack.

The Jerusalem Post
learned on Thursday that of the 210 beds in the institution – one of the oldest hospitals in the country – only about 100 of them are occupied by patients. These are mostly in obstetrics/gynecology, with some in internal medicine.

In addition, the emergency room is still functioning.

Most of the hospital’s patients are haredim who live in the neighborhood north of Jaffa Road.

Pollack was due to hold an emergency meeting with Finance Ministry officials including Deputy Minister Yitzhak Cohen and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman last night to discuss the emergency.

Litzman wants the city’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center to run Bikur Cholim as a branch in the center of town, but SZMC director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy is taking a very careful look at the deteriorating hospital and is wary of it causing harm to his own flourishing medical center. Halevy reportedly told Health Ministry officials that he needs until the spring before deciding, and he told his own board of governors meeting recently that the chance that SZMC would take it over was “just 50-50.”

The government has already agreed to finance the cost of running the hospital, but the amount SZMC has been offered has not been made public.

The Hadassah Medical Organization, which has its own serious financial problems, is eager to take over the running of Bikur Cholim, but Litzman and the Treasury gave SZMC the nod instead.

The hospital was in better shape when former Treasury expert Bari Bar-Zion ran it efficiently some years ago, bought new equipment and balanced the budget, but the owner of the premises, Russian-Israeli oligarch Arkady Gaydamak, sent him home.

A long series of non-medical administrators have barely kept it afloat. The latest to become director-general is Dov Goldfreund from Bank Poalei Agudat Yisrael, who has no experience in hospital administration.

Although Bikur Cholim suffers from very poor infrastructure and outdated equipment, it can handle deliveries of a few thousand haredi mothers’ newborns each year. But now, due to the worsening labor and financial situations, it receives no donations, salaries have been cut and staff want to flee.

As a result, the Health Ministry has issued orders that no elective surgery or even outpatient coronary catheterization may be performed, and Bikur Cholim is on a reduced Shabbat schedule. In addition, the ministry has instructed Magen David Adom to stop bringing patients to the emergency room by ambulance – although patients needing urgent care can walk in off the street.

Meanwhile, the Israel Medical Association’s director-general, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, sent a forceful letter of protest to Goldfreund, condemning the fact that doctors’ salaries have been reduced by a third and stating that various deductions have not been transferred.

“Every day that passes without a solution to Bikur Cholim further harms the doctors,” Eidelman wrote.

In addition, he said, the hospitals have stopped sending premiums for malpractice insurance to the AON insurance company.

The hospital management said it can’t pay these bills.

The IMA head said that he is “of course, aware of intensive negotiations with SZMC, but that this was no excuse for “treading on the rights of doctors.”

Eidelman demanded representation at talks for finding relief for Bikur Cholim.

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