Russian-born billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak will officially become the owner of Jerusalem's 180-year-old downtown hospital, Bikur Holim, on November 1 after paying $32 million for it. On Sunday, Gaydamak visited the 230-bed general hospital for only the second time, accompanied by his team and meeting with director-general Bari Bar-Zion. Gaydamak, whose purchase of the hospital was approved last week by the Jerusalem District Court after the nearly bankrupt Bikur Holim was put into temporary receivership nearly four years ago, said he intends to invest in its development. He will not only expand its professional teams of doctors and nurses and its departments, but also put money into improving the look of the campus, which is located between Jaffa Road and Rehov Hanevi'im. Bar-Zion, who convened a meeting of the heads of all branches and departments, discussed issues such as payments to suppliers, salaries, financial arrangements with the health funds and other details. The agreement, approved by Jerusalem District Court Judge Yosef Shapira, followed almost four years of despair that the hospital would be closed and its retired workers left without any pensions. "I feel we have been rewarded for our very hard work," said Bar-Zion, a former Finance Ministry official. "Our medical director, Dr. Raphael Pollack, and I have received backing from the official receiver, Shlomo Shahar, and from our employees. We took an institution that was bankrupt and on the verge of closing and turned it into an economically viable institution for which a large sum has been paid. "Then, nobody believed it would end this way," Bar-Zion continued. "The workers are in a bit of a euphoria." In their first meeting, Bar-Zion said he got the impression that Gaydamak was "a businessman who also works in philanthropy, feels the distress of the workers and city residents who didn't want to lose it [the hospital] and also detects that money can be made. "We are a bit into the black and now making some money," said Bar-Zion, "and you can do this at a hospital while providing very good medical care, even under the difficult conditions of receivership." Gaydamak, who beat out a number of competitors - some of whom wanted to turn the campus into high-priced real estate - committed himself to running it as a general hospital for five years, and promised that he would continue to do so for at least 15 beyond that. He will pay an additional $3m. for the hospital if the hekdesh (charitable trust status) handed down since its establishment in the early 19th century is cancelled, meaning that there will be no barrier to running it as a business. Employees of the hospital, which serves both the nearby haredi community and other sectors throughout the city, will receive a two percent wage increase (although their salaries are still lower than at other Jerusalem medical centers). The Finance Ministry, which has invested NIS 38 million on pensions and other expenses since the hospital went into receivership almost four years ago, will not give more money. Thus, the pensions of 230 hospital workers who have already retired and 250 others who have pension benefits are dependent on how much of the $32m. will be left after the hospital pays off its malpractice insurance debts to the Madanes company, which is demanding $12m. for "run-off" insurance services covering the hospital's activities from 1993 up to now. Although Bikur Holim lost qualified doctors and other professionals after being put into temporary receivership, the staff has stabilized in the last six months and management has invested some $8m., all of it from private donors, in medical equipment, renovation, improvements and expansion.

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