All sides in the wage and recovery program disputes at the Hadassah Medical Organization heaved a sigh of relief on Wednesday when a temporary agreement reached before dawn made it possible for work to continue in full.
The doctors returned to normal work – following two weeks of severely cutting down their workload in protest – after the Jerusalem District Court ruled that they would have enough malpractice insurance to cover them despite the 90-day freeze on Hadassah’s financial obligations.
Next year, the Hadassah Medical Organization will be “better, stable and flourishing,” predicted Avigdor Kaplan, HMO’s director-general for the past eight months, who has had to cope in recent months with its worst crisis ever.
The agreement to halt the partial work stoppages that paralyzed the Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus hospital campuses was reached between Kaplan and the nursing, administrative and maintenance staffs of HMO.
Instead of withholding part of the pay of staffers who earn more than NIS 10,000 gross a month, as had previously been indicated, all those who earn up to NIS 15,000 monthly – a majority of employees – will get their full wages. In addition, plans to fire employees during the next 70 days were frozen so that a recovery program could be prepared with consultation of staffers.
The sides hope to reach a permanent agreement by April 13.
The two sides became more flexible as they realized Shaare Zedek Medical Center medical staffers had managed to provide care for Jerusalemites who needed urgent care during the past 10 days of emergency schedules at Hadassah – and that doctors and nurses might have sought positions elsewhere if they were not satisfied with HMO management.
Before the temporary agreement was reached, hundreds of HMO staffers bedded down on skimpy mattresses in the main atrium of the Ein Kerem hospital on Tuesday night, to protest the fact that they had to wait 18 days to get their January wages.
Kaplan, who is an economist, and the former head of Clalit Health Services and president and CEO of Clal Insurance, told The Jerusalem Post that “we are not at the beginning of the end, but at the end of the beginning.”
By mid-April, HMO is due to reach an agreement on a comprehensive recovery program with its 6,000 employees – doctors, nurses, paramedical workers, psychologists, social workers, laboratory personnel, clerks and maintenance personnel.
In light of its NIS 1.3 billion accumulated deficit (for pensions and other long-term costs) and its NIS 300 million running deficit, HMO has to clean up its act, because the Treasury is reluctant to make financial gifts to hospitals that the government does not own.
“It’s very important for the Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus hospitals to return to normal functioning.
We now have a timeout on the crisis and can achieve a real recovery. But it won’t be easy,” Kaplan said.
“I’ve been through many negotiating sessions before this in my career,” he recalled, “but this one was different. It was the most complicated crisis, and not just one side was angry with me but all the sides – the HMO staff, different parts of the government and others.”
Asked what HMO’s owner, Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, was willing to give to relieve the financial crisis, Kaplan – who was handpicked at age 73 to be its first non-doctor director-general – said: “They are giving a lot. They are transferring NIS 50m. as an intermediate measure, but they will give more with the full recovery formula in place. It hasn’t been decided yet how much.”
He disputed that HWZOA had large amounts of property in the form of real estate (outside the hospitals themselves) that could be sold to help cover HMO’s debts, but said, “They will sell what they can.”
Regarding Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the former HMO director-general who left in 2011 after 11 years at the helm and is now director-general of the National Insurance Institute, Kaplan preferred not to distribute personal blame for the financial crisis.
“He said on TV that he is willing to reopen his severance pay agreement,” Kaplan said. The agreement gives Mor-Yosef NIS 75,000 a month until he reaches 67 in four years, in addition to his NIS 60,000 monthly at the NII.
The bonuses over NIS 1m. that the HWZOA gave him when he left his post are also to be discussed.
“Shlomo recognized the public criticism. He is ready to negotiate,” Kaplan said.
“Already in 2006, there was an HMO deficit of hundreds of millions of shekels. It became like a snowball,” Kaplan said. He could not estimate how much money HMO had lost in the past 10 days or so, when its hospital activities shrank almost to nothing. But he said “it’s in the millions, not tens of millions of shekels.”
As for dismissals in the coming months, Kaplan said they would not include nurses, because a small number of them had already left and there had been a shortage of nurses all over the country. Some physicians would have to go, he said, but not many as there were too few doctors in all the country’s hospitals.
More employees would be dismissed among the administrative, maintenance and paramedical workers, he said.
Efforts to raise income through a better agreement with doctors on private medical services and discounts for the four public health funds would also be attempted.
Kaplan said he would do what he could to help angry doctors and nurses, who were threatened with reduced benefits and whose salaries were paid late, to recover emotionally.
“They know that this is their home,” he said.