Exactly three years after Russian-Israeli tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak bought the capital’s financially troubled Bikur Cholim Hospital and vowed to run it for at least seven and perhaps 15 years, the failed candidate for the Jerusalem mayoralty is negotiating to sell it.

A year after taking over the hospital from receivership in 2007, Gaydamak stopped funding it and soon after left the country for Russia, apparently for good.

There are two bidding groups who want to buy it for about $25 million – one based in the US and the other composed of Israelis – and neither includes haredim, according to Rabbi Dudi Zilbershlag, the haredi head of the hospital’s general assembly.

Zilbershlag, a businessman known for his establishment of charities, is running the 200-bed institution along with medical director Dr. Raphael Pollack after the resignation of its administrative director two months ago.

The 180-year-old medical institution has received permission to build a 6,400- square-meter hospitalization tower behind one of the existing old buildings on the corner of Strauss and Hanevi’im Streets, said Zilbershlag.

He added that Gaydamak, a former billionaire, intends to sell all his remaining property in Israel because he “needs the money.”

Zilbershlag told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Gaydamak made an important contribution to Bikur Cholim by paying retired staffers their pensions, after they hadn’t been funded properly for years due to mismanagement and debts.

Zilbershlag said he hoped a buyer would be chosen soon, saying the hospital’s “reputation and facilities have significantly improved” in the last year.

The two bidding groups want to make money on their purchase, he said, but they also want to benefit the people of Israel and Jerusalem.

“Soon after the sale, we can begin building,” he said.

Two of the four public health funds had wanted to buy the hospital, but the deal didn’t go through due to opposition from the Health and Finance ministries. An Israeli private bidder also attempted to buy it, said Zilbershlag, who is leading the negotiations with the bidding groups.

Although managers in Jerusalem’s main voluntary hospitals have long said Bikur Cholim is not needed in Jerusalem, Zilbershlag said it was “clear” that it was, especially due to its location in the center of town. Its obstetrics and cardiology departments, as well as others, are considered to be top-quality.

Nissim Dahan, a former health minister representing Shas, has been appointed to the hospital’s board, although he is not due to take a management position because he is busy with the development of the haredi city of Harish in Wadi Ara.

Zilbershlag said the hospital, although located on the edge of a haredi Jerusalem neighborhood, is interested in attracting all sectors, including the city’s Arabs.

“We hope to offer obstetrics services to east Jerusalem women and others who do not get the best services elsewhere,” he said.

He maintained that despite the hospital’s years of financial troubles, medical staffers are not leaving for other hospitals. “We have new doctors coming in,” he said.

But Bikur Cholim has a serious shortage of nurses, “like the other Jerusalem hospitals,” he added.


Asked to comment, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman of Agudat Yisrael said that the “future of Bikur Cholim is being examined by ministry professionals.”

His position is that “in principle, the government must not subsidize” hospitals owned by other organizations, and what will be decided about the rest of the hospitals will be the same for Bikur Cholim.

The deputy minister, said his office, “does not intervene in the management of the institution, and he was not in contact with Mr. Zilbershlag.”

The quality of the hospital’s medical services was recently examined by ministry director-general Dr. Ronni Gamzu, who visited it, and his impressions appear in a special report that he prepared recently, Litzman’s office said.

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