The threat to my alma mater

The Hadassah Medical Organization is in the midst of an earthquake that might destroy its standing as one of Israel's top medical centers.

February 24, 2010 22:26
4 minute read.
Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef

mor yosef 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Forty-six years ago, I completed my MD studies at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. It was an excellent period, learning from top teachers, five of whom were later awarded the Israel Prize for their contributions to medicine. I went on to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where I studied with the late Prof. Chaim Sheba and later became the director of the medical center for 33 years. Yet, I always maintained deep sentiments about my alma mater.

I had close relationships with all of its four directors-general and served with Prof. Shmuel Penchas (its director for 18 years) as a member of the Netanyahu State Judicial Commission on Reforming the Health System, which spent two years investigating health services in Israel and proposing major changes.

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Having twice been the Health Ministry's director-general, I have met with national presidents of the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), and also with two committees that were appointed to analyze the future direction and development of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. The main question was always about how to keep the leadership of the Hadassah Medical Organization, HMO.

Now my alma mater is in the midst of an earthquake that might destroy its standing as one of Israel's top medical centers.

The American board members of the HWZOA, who are the majority, have decided not to renew the contract of HMO director of the past 10 years, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.

This is the third consecutive termination or lack of renewal of a director's contract over the past 13 years. No director of this excellent medical organization over the last 30 years has left willingly, but has been forced to resign.

However, while the forced resignation of the two previous directors went smoothly, this time all the hospital unions are rebelling. Seventy percent of HMO's physicians, including department heads and other senior staff, signed a petition in protest, demanding that Mor-Yosef be allowed to continue as their leader.

PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, to an outsider like myself (who has known the Israeli health system very well over the past 40 years) there is no reason not to renew the contract of its current director. Prof. Mor-Yosef is one of the top five current leaders of health care in Israel. He is an excellent hospital director and the director of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.

It is not easy to be a director of any medical organization and especially of HMO, when its owner, HWZOA, is cutting funds, and to try and maintain the high quality of this excellent institution. Essentially there are no Israeli medical centers of such quality that can maintain its running expenses without donations.

Therefore, the decision to significantly cut, for the first time in more than 70 years, this financial support is a severe blow to this hospital and a cause of friction between the director and its owners, who don't have any understanding of the nature of the situation of public services in Israel, and the importance to the various schools of Hadassah to Israel.

I do foresee severe damage to Hadassah Medical Organization, reminding me of Barbara Tuchman's book The March of Folly.

No human being is irreplaceable. Yet - knowing as well as I do all the leaders in our health-care system - none of them will agree to replace Prof. Mor-Yosef. In its current financial situation and the attitude of its American owners, it would be suicide for any leader.

Yes, there is one external candidate, and, to my knowledge, two internal ones who would like to add the title of director of Hadassah Medical Center to their CV. I would not appoint a single one of them as my assistant.

ONE MUST also recall the severe antagonism of the top physicians in Hadassah and they will protest strongly at the appointment of mediocre people. They might even severely damage the standing of Hadassah in the US and elsewhere.

One Israeli board member has resigned and another contemplated her resignation. What Israeli will agree in the future to be a board member when there is only a dictate and no dialogue between the Israelis and the Americans?

In Haaretz of February 4, there was a quote that the Hadassah board functions for the welfare of the patients. I am doubtful who among Hadassah's leaders really understand the medical needs of Israeli citizens. Several years ago Prof. Paul Marx, the director of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, had a two-hour discussion with me and my Israeli colleagues, yet he could not understand the mentality of health care in Israel.

I have no vested interest in the Hadassah Medical Organization, and no one has asked me to talk with the Israeli chairman of the board (as I did) or to write this letter. I am doing it for the welfare of Israeli citizens to whom I have given 46 years of my life in public service.

Please do not destroy my alma mater, a beacon of medical care in Israel.

The writer is an Israel Prize laureate for his life's work as a long-time director of Sheba Medical Center, twice director-general of the Health Ministry and world-renowed expert in health systems and administration.

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