IMA chief continues hunger strike in J'lem tent

Israel Medical Association head Leonid Eidelman camps in front of PM’s office, vowing he’ll stay until agreement reached.

July 31, 2011 01:23
4 minute read.
IMA chief Leonid Eidelman in hunger strike

Leonid Eidelman 311. (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)

Sitting just outside a tent that will be his home until he “collapses, or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intervenes and decides to invest in the public system,” Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman prepared for a Shabbat in which he’d take in just mineral water, as he has since Monday afternoon in a one-man hunger strike.

At 9 a.m., the 59-year-old, Russianborn anesthesiologist finally reached Jerusalem by foot from IMA headquarters in Ramat Gan, and settled in the white canvas tent, pitched near the Prime Minister’s Office and the Bank of Israel.

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Usually a hectic location clogged with government bureaucrats and security men, the street was nearly deserted on Friday, with an occasional driver honking a horn in sympathy.

“Save public medicine,” said the redand- white T-shirt Eidelman was wearing along with casual trousers, dusty walking shoes, sunglasses and a foreignlegion- type cap with flaps to cover his ears and the back of his neck.

His sympathetic colleagues, some of whom advised him not to fast for the cause, grabbed baguette sandwiches purchased to sustain them as the 132nd day of the doctors’ labor dispute began to turn hot. Two folding beds leaned on one wall among placards, and a chemical- toilet booth stood on the sidewalk a few meters away.

Eidelman went to sleep at midnight Thursday and awoke at 5:30 a.m. at a rest stop outside Jerusalem, from which he marched to the government center.

Colleagues said they were watching hishealth, but they did not check his blood pressure on Friday.

Still, Eidelman’s grasp remained firm: “I am an anesthesiologist, so I put people to sleep – but I am also an expert in waking people up,” Eidelman told The Jerusalem Post.

“I want to wake Netanyahu up so he will take action and end the strike.

If he intervenes and decides to allocate the necessary funds, it would take only a day. There remain gaps in the negotiations that are not small,” he continued.

“The Treasury is ready to spend less than NIS 2 billion a year on a settlement, when over NIS 3 billion is needed not only to better compensate doctors, but to create a restructuring of the public-health system.”

Told that Jewish law forbade him to fast on Shabbat (except on Yom Kippur), the tall, thin and fair-haired physician said: “It is better that one person fasts so that all the patients and doctors won’t continue to suffer.”

Eidelman said he found it pathetic that Netanyahu found time to meet with Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman on Thursday to discuss the Aguda MK’s “geriatric nursing plan” – whose details have not yet been revealed to the public – while not once inviting the IMA over to find a way out of the doctors’ strike.

The figures bandied about in the media to finance shorter and fewer shifts for medical residents, higher per-hour basic wages for all doctors, additional job slots in short-handed specialties and incentives for doctors in the periphery have all been accurate, Eidelman said.

While he was glad to have support from younger doctors, Eidelman said they “have been too hasty and made some serious errors, such as preparing letters of resignation [held by a lawyer and still unsubmitted]. They will forgo their tenure and lose years of benefits.”

Eidelman, who made aliya in 1987 and settled in Jerusalem, started working soon after as a Hadassah University Medical Center anesthesiologist.

Fourteen years ago, he moved to Petah Tikva’s Rabin Medical Center- Beilinson Campus, where he currently heads an anesthesiology department.

Meanwhile, his wife – an internal medicine specialist who works as a family physician for Clalit Health Services in south Tel Aviv – and his two adult children are very worried about his health and want him to stop his hunger strike. But he will not listen.

“I would never have dreamed when I came on aliya that today I would be holding a hunger strike for the health system while sitting in a tent near the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said in disbelief.

Eidelman told the Post it was too early to assess any strategic and tactical mistakes the IMA might have made in negotiating for a new contract beginning a year ago. But the Treasury and Netanyahu have clearly made mistakes, he added.

Asked why he had not agreed to arbitration to resolve the dispute, the IMA chief said it would take much too long. The last doctors’ strike over 10 years ago took even longer to end, he explained, and its arbitrated agreement was implemented only after a decade.

“If an arbitrator were selected and agreed upon by both sides, it would take a year for him to learn enough about medicine in this country,” Eidelman explained. “The Treasury would never agree to a physician being an arbitrator.”

With his hunger strike scheduled to go into its seventh day on Sunday afternoon, Eidelman will go to Beit Hanassi in the morning with a delegation of doctors representing the hospitals and the health funds to meet President Shimon Peres.

There, Eidelman will explain the problems of the health system and his suggestions for rehabilitating it, and improving the condition of its physicians.

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