Doctors and medical personnel demonstrate outside the prime minister's office..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Enraged by Tuesday’s Jerusalem District Court ruling that will enable the Hadassah Medical Organization to dismiss hundreds of employees, bar striking and cut salaries, its employees decided to put the HMO on an emergency schedule from Wednesday morning, instead of a less-serious Shabbat schedule.
The 6,000 workers -- who for months have received their wages in two parts instead of as whole paychecks -- will treat only patients who are in life-threatening situations. Operations, treatments, tests and examinations that are not a matter of life and death will not be carried out. An exceptions committee will rule on appeals about unusual cases not initially recognized as requiring life saving.
The overflow is putting heavy pressure on the only other public hospital in Jerusalem -- Shaare Zedek Medical Center, including Bikur Cholim Hospital which it has been running for about a year.
The district court announced in the morning its decision to approve the HMO request for the freezing for 90 days of its financial activities, including debts to suppliers and banks and commitments to doctors and other staffers. The court told HMO to ensure that doctors’ malpractise insurance is paid for despite the freeze, as doctors threatened to walk off their jobs completely without the coverage. Two external trustees, and not only Clalit Health Services lawyer Lipa Meir, will be appointed to help HMO director-general Avigdor Kaplan run the hospitals.
As a result of the ruling, Hadassah unions of nurses and administrative and maintenance workers met at the Histadrut in Tel Aviv to consult with General Labor Federation official Avi Nissenkorn, who said it was “a sad day. These employees do holy work... They do not deserve the cynical attitude that they get from HMO management and from the Finance Ministry." Nissenkorn demanded that HMO employees immediately be paid their January salaries in full. “We will be the first to sit and negotiation for the financial recovery of Hadassah,” he said.
National Nurses Union chief Ilana Cohen added that she and her colleagues would be ready to negotiation “even tonight, but we will not do it until everyone receives his full salary. Before the negotiations, they must look at the workers in their eyes. People who treat the public day in and day out deserve a fair wage. At this stage, we are intensifying sanctions and are moving over to an emergency schedule,” Cohen declared.
There will be no ambulatory services at HMO’s hospitals including outpatient clinics, diagnostic institutes and day hospitals until further notice. Operating theaters will handle only urgent cases. Even intensive care, obstetrics, neonatology, fertility and dialysis departments and units will work with only a reduced staff -- which does not occur on a Shabbat schedule.
In addition, geriatric and psychiatric hospitals around the country will function according to a reduced Shabbat schedule.
The Health Ministry said its “supports committee” met on Wednesday about HMO’s troubles and approved the immediate transfer of NIS 22 million to Hadassah on condition that it will receive the identical sum from the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), which owns the HMO. The ministry committee, it said, will continue to follow HMO’s financial condition during the freeze and will approve additional sums in the future.
The Finance Ministry announced at an urgent session of the Knesset Finance Committee that it opposed the idea raised by some MKs that Hadassah’s medical centers be nationalized. Treasury officials said that handing HMO over to one or two of the four public health funds was also not being discussed. The financial aid has to be approved by the Knesset Finance Committee before it is transferred.
“To burden the health funds, which are themselves in financial trouble, is like replacing one problem with another, added Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu. He added that HWZOA “will have to do its part” to contribute to the solution of the crisis. He added that the crisis “fell upon us as a surprise. The hospitals can be stabilized with the recovery program. The owners must understand that they will be in the system and have responsibility; only then with the state be there. I can’t imagine the health system without HMO. It’s excellent but in distress due to many problems, some of them from the structure of the health system,” the director-general said.
Kaplan stressed that HMO’s accumulated debt of NIS 1.3 billion and its ongoing deficit of NIS 300 million did not happen since he was called to be director-general less than a year ago. “It’s impossible to close either the Ein Kerem or Mount Scopus campuses,” he added.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) criticized Health Minister Yael German for not coming to a meeting of his committee called urgently to discuss the HMO crisis.
Moshe Bar-Simantov, the head of health matters in the Treasury’s budgets branch, told the committee that his office opposes nationalization and turning Hadassah workers into state employees. “This would produce too much of a shakeup in the health system. Instead, the current ownership must continue while make sure that it is run properly with the right regulation...Everyone -- the government, the owners and of course the workers -- must participate in the recovery program. At present, a total of NIS 100 million will be transferred by the state and HWZOA for 90 days. The whole program will cost the government and HWZOA up to NIS 900 million,” Bar-Simantov said.