FROM LEFT: MKs Eli Alalouf, Itzik Shmuli and Ayelet Nahmias- Verbin discuss the dispute between the doctors and the Hadassah Medical Organization during an emergency session of the Knesset committee.. (Yitzhak Harari/Knesset).
(photo credit: YITZHAK HARARI)
After hearing that Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman had appointed a “mediator” to resolve the problem of six leading Hadassah University Medical Center pediatric hemato- oncologists resigning en masse from their department, the physicians announced they have no interest in such a go-between.
On Tuesday morning, Litzman announced he had named Kobi Amsalem, a former Treasury salary director, as a nonbinding mediator. But apparently the minister did not ask the doctors, because they announced their refusal to cooperate at a meeting of the Knesset Labor, Social Services and Health Committee. The mediator idea was raised by Litzman four months after the dispute arose.
The physicians, led by Hadassah department head Prof. Michael Weintraub, decided to leave the hospital in protest against money-saving decisions by the management of the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), whose director-general is Prof. Zeev Rotstein.
The decision that most angered them was to unify the pediatric hemato-oncology department with that of adults, which the six physicians said would cause great harm to the children’s complex. The doctors announced on Sunday that in June, they will leave Hadassah and move to other medical centers around the country because Litzman – who appointed Rotstein – refused to allow nearby Shaare Zedek Medical Center to add more beds to their existing hemato-oncology department; this would have enabled Shaare Zedek to absorb the six physicians and begin to offer bone-marrow transplants from compatible donors.
The ministry said that “out of great responsibility for the sick children and to find a compromise between HMO management and the doctors, the health minister asked Kobi Amsalem to find a long-term solution for the children and their families. I call on the two sides to put aside all other considerations and reach a real solution,” Litzman said.
But the oncologists said they would have nothing to do with it, as they do not intend to continue working at Hadassah.
The heartbreaking conflict was discussed on Tuesday in an emergency session of the Knesset committee. “We have gone to the ministry twice, and Minister Litzman said he will meet soon with all sides in the crisis. He told us, it doesn’t matter what: ‘I won’t let you move to Shaare Zedek.’ Then he said he would consider it, but he forgot about us,” Weintraub said.
“We have been suffering for four months with our planned decision to resign, but we can’t work with this HMO management. The decision to shift children to the adult department directly endangers the lives of the child. Bone-marrow transplants are among the most difficult, complicated and dangerous medical procedures. The child’s life is stretched to the limit. There is no Israeli hemato-oncology department that puts children with adults, even when they suffer budgetary problems. I am the one who bears responsibility for the children. All the arguments made [by HMO] against us, that we are ‘money mad’ and ‘power crazy’ and more serious charges are lies to give us a bad name,” Weintraub said.
Committee chairman MK Eli Alalouf begged Rotstein and Weintraub to get together and talk. “This affair has become a national one, with great influence on other hospitals and the whole health system.” MK Itzik Shmuli said he and others concerned are “going down on our knees to ask for you to discuss this. I am angry at the health system that forces me into this situation for placing the [HMO’s] recovery plan on the shoulders of children with cancer. It’s an argument about money; let us not be confused.”
Rotstein said it is “not important for me to be right. I want peace. My hand is stretched out to Miki [Weintraub]. We may kill each other, but the children have a right to live. I won’t take unilateral decisions. There are a lot of misunderstandings in what you said.”
Emeritus hemato-oncologist Prof. Eliezer Rachmilewich, who previously worked at Hadassah, told Rotstein: “You have great abilities. I don’t believe you can’t find enough beds for the children. Bone marrow transplants can be performed on children only in a separate department. It is a professional matter,” he said.
Parents of young leukemia and lymphoma patients and some patients themselves tearfully described what they had been through. “If we have to sit under Minister Litzman’s house [in protest of his refusal to let the doctors go to Shaare Zedek and expand its department],” we will do it, said Uri Yakir, father of a three-yearold girl hospitalized for leukemia treatment in Weintraub’s department.