Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz signed an agreement on Tuesday with Assuta
Medical Centers Ltd. handing over 7 hectares (17.3 acres) of free land in the
eastern part of Ashdod, for a private subsidiary of Maccabi Health Fund to build
and run the first hospital to be built in Israel in three decades.
construction, which has been held up for years and was mired in lawsuits, is due
to end in five years, with two-thirds of the money – some NIS 500 million – to
come from the Treasury and the rest to be covered by Assuta. The subsidiary,
which promises that the 300- bed medical center will be among the most advanced
in the country, will have the right to provide private medical services there to
the tune of one quarter of its income.
Steinitz took part at the ceremony
in his Jerusalem office, which was also attended by Ashdod Mayor Dr. Yehiel
Lasri, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and Deputy Finance Minister
Yitzhak Cohen, along with Assuta chairman Prof. Yehoshua Shemer and
director-general Dr. Eitan Hai-Am (both former Health Ministry directors-
general) and other officials. Those present generously praised each other
for their involvement in approving the hospital.
Steinitz said that when
he took over as minister, he immediately committed himself to making the
hospital a reality for Ashdod, which now has 250,000 residents and will expand
rapidly to 300,000 in the coming years.
“There were problems. It is
legitimate that there were internal and other disagreements, but we overcame all
the difficulties,” he said. “In the country’s first 30 years, many hospitals
were set up, but in the last 30, none were. We want to be at the groundbreaking
ceremony in a few weeks.”
The hospital will have advanced operating
theaters, with departments to include obstetrics and gynecology, oncology,
pediatrics, orthopedics and internal medicine.
The government published
the tender in August 2009 and chose Assuta one year ago, although the government
passed a law to establish the hospital back in 2002.
It will be the first
new public hospital in decades, since Netanya’s voluntary hospital, Laniado
Medical Center, was established by the Sanz Hassidim. No public hospital
beds have been added in the past decade.
Asked whether the Assuta model
would be used when, or if, future hospitals are built – such as the much-needed
facility for the suburbs north of Haifa – Steinitz said he could not predict
whether the government would ever build another public hospital.
said that the construction of the Ashdod hospital will reduce crowding in other
hospitals. He added that permission has been granted in the period before the
hospital opens to provide some medical services. They will be provided in a
six-floor building that is currently empty and was built by haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) voluntary organization Refuah Viyeshua, which abandoned the
tender after spending millions of shekels in an attempt to build a full-fledged
Shemer asserted that the hospital will be a “unique model,” in
which government money will help a private company build a hospital and medical
staff will be fully integrated with the community. “The community will have a
hospital, not the hospital [will] have a community. I promise the highest level
of medicine, and both the poor and the rich [will] receive the same services,”
the Assuta chairman said.
In regard to private medical services (known as
Sharap), however, paying patients will be able to choose their surgeon or
physician for medical consultation, and treatments not included in the basket of
health services such as aesthetic plastic surgery will be provided for a
Bank Leumi was selected to help with construction financing
arrangements, and a representative of the bank attended the
Ashdod’s mayor thanked those present for the gift of the
hospital. “[Was it possible] that a quarter-of-a-million people would be left
without a hospital of their own?” Lasri asked.
Steinitz and Shemer
rejected criticism voiced to The Jerusalem Post by Prof. Gabi Bin-Nun, a
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev health economist and former longtime deputy
director-general for health economics at the Health Ministry. He said that
“offering private medical services in a public hospital creates two types of
patients and is liable to harm the availability and accessibility for those who
cannot afford payments for private medicine.”
“The Treasury – which for
years opposed approval of Sharap [private medical services] in public hospitals
– agreed to the Ashdod hospital, which will receive generous support from the
state budget,” argued Bin-Nun. “Approving the running of private medical
services in the Ashdod hospital will cause good doctors to leave Barzilai
Medical Center in Ashkelon and Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot [to earn more
money from providing private medical services], and will lead to patients in
those areas shifting to the Ashdod hospital.”
Meanwhile, the Knesset
Labor, Welfare and Health Committee held a session on Tuesday about the fact
that even though the Treasury and Health Ministry promised last year that over
1,000 new hospitals beds would be added to existing public hospitals, nothing
has been accomplished as of yet. The committee was told that Israel has one of
the lowest bed-to-resident ratios in the OECD, with only 1.88 beds per 1,000
Israelis. Moreover, the figure is due to decline.
The session was
initiated by Knesset Health Lobby head Dr. Rachel Adatto. “The prime
minister promised last year to add at least 960 [funded] beds in public
hospitals,” she said. “A 2011 Health Ministry report on hospital beds
showed the truth: that in some places beds have been shut down.”
is the money to add beds?” Adatto asked.
“We are dealing with problems on
the top level [of the ship] while the ship is sinking,” said Dr. Ze’ev Feldman,
a deputy chairman of the Israel Medical Association. “We aren’t managing to have
enough place to take care of newborns and premature babies, and we are not
prepared to deal with the fact that Israel’s population is aging and urgently
needs more hospital beds.”
Many premature babies are kept in standard
neonatal departments instead of in special intensive care beds, Feldman
declared, and babies are discharged too quickly.
Responding for the
Health Ministry, medical administration head Prof. Arnon Afek said: “If, God
forbid, we have a hard winter and there is a significant flu epidemic, the
situation will be very serious.”
Ministry deputy director-general for
planning and building Yehuda Ron explained that the Finance Ministry has not yet
approved a construction plan that would make it possible to add hospital
Adatto countered that it takes seven years to build new hospital
departments. “To claim that adding 1,000 beds is a matter of just construction
is misleading. Suddenly we are told that we have to build, that it will
take time, that it requires more funds.”
“What is the message to the
Israeli citizen? That we don’t care about your health,” she said.
Knesset committee said it would continue to investigate the issue.