Six physicians who are experts in treating children’s blood cancers resigned en masse Sunday from Hadassah- University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, to protest the management of the Hadassah Medical Organization by its director-general, Prof. Zeev Rotstein.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has refused to let nearby Shaare Zedek Medical Center – which is not yet licensed to perform bone marrow transplants on children – add patient beds to expand its pediatric oncology department. As a result, more than 30 young patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening cancers will have to go to other institutions – mostly outside the capital – for treatment once the physicians leave.
The resigning physicians are expected to scatter among hospitals around the country.
Unless a solution is found by June or a court order is issued allowing them to work at Shaare Zedek, they will no longer be able to continue functioning as a team.
Prof. Michael Weintraub is a pediatric oncologist with a reputation for skill and compassion who earns an ordinary salary without providing highly paid private medical services. On Sunday, he said in a letter to the families: “This morning, I presented my resignation to Hadassah management.”
Prof. Shoshana Revel-Vilk, Dr. Mira Kharit, Dr. Iris Fried, Dr. Tal Ben-Ami and Dr. Yair Peled – all senior oncologists in the department, including board-certified pediatric hematologist- oncologists – sent copies of their own letters of resignation to Weintraub, which they had sent to management.
“This is a difficult and sad moment for me, a moment of real crisis,” Weintraub said. “But in light of the behavior of Hadassah management, I can’t continue to be responsible to the parents and my young patients for giving them the best treatment. In the coming months [until all six physicians leave Hadassah], I will do my utmost to ensure the orderly transfer of patients to teams that will take over responsibility for the children’s treatment, either at Hadassah or at other medical centers.”
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Rotstein, apparently as a money-saving measure for the financially strained HMO, made a unilateral decision to combine Weintraub’s department with other oncology departments in the hospital.
That enraged the oncologists and led to them stating they could no longer function. Months of talks between Weintraub and Rotstein and between Rotstein and Litzman – who appointed Rotstein to his post – failed to resolve the issue.
Michal Kulka, whose daughter’s life was saved by Weintraub – who continues to follow the girl’s medical condition – told The Jerusalem Post that the parents of the 30-plus children treated at Hadassah were terribly upset by the physicians’ plans to leave, but understood their reasons. They asked that the doctors be permitted to work at Shaare Zedek and that the pediatric oncology department there be allowed to perform bone marrow transplants, but Litzman has refused.
Rotstein previously served as director- general of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. He is regarded within the medical establishment as a very good administrator who has difficult interpersonal relations with staff, especially doctors.
In the year since Rotstein took over, six other senior Hadassah physicians have applied to Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy for work, but he has declined to accept them in order to avoid a “grab” of Hadassah personnel.
Speaking on behalf of the other parents, Kulka said they wrote to Litzman “many, many times” to ask for a meeting.
His office either “refused or didn’t respond,” she said, even though Litzman has repeated that he “meets with anyone who requests it,” to dismiss his involvement in a scandal over meeting with Channel 2 journalists posing as tobacco company representatives.
On Sunday, in a letter to ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, the parents said, “We have learned of the resignations and now we are left with no one to help us. We ask you for an urgent meeting. It is surprising that despite our repeated requests, no meeting has been set by any ministry decision-makers on this subject. After all, our children are the first ones to suffer. At present there is no solution for them and we the parents are very worried.
“We are sure that as the official who makes the professional decisions for which the ministry is responsible, you would not want to sign a decision that means the closing of a department of such rare, outstanding quality. This would mean the destruction of pediatric oncology in Jerusalem. Shaare Zedek management has agreed in principle to absorb the department [and the resigning physicians]. All that is needed is the Health Ministry’s approval.”
Asked to comment, HMO management said it received the “collective letter of resignation” from the department head and five other senior oncologists in the department, and will “do all it can to ensure that not a single child will be hurt as a result.”
Management said the children will “continue to get treatment” from the remaining staffers. “The department will not close.”
Rotstein, in a short recorded message, said, “It is our job, and we will convene and find solutions so we can look the mothers in their eyes and say they [the children] will not be hurt.”
Asked to comment, Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson said that Litzman asked Bar Siman Tov to deal with HMO to “ensure continuity of treatment in the department, out of concern for the health of the children and their families.
The ministry director-general did meet recently with the doctors to ensure that the crisis in the department does not hurt the children.”
Litzman, the spokesman said, also spoke to Rotstein, asking him to ensure that the department “remain suitable for all eventualities.”
When asked about Litzman’s refusal to let Shaare Zedek open a pediatric bone marrow transplant center and about accusations that he was “protecting Rotstein because he appointed him to run Hadassah,” the spokesman declined comment.
Meanwhile, Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli, who heads the Knesset’s Caucus for Children with Cancer, said that he has already initiated an urgent discussion of the issue in the Labor, Social Services and Health Committee.
“Because of the crisis situation in Hadassah, impossible conditions have been presented to department head Prof.
Weintraub and his team, who said they will destroy the quality of care for the children being treated there. It is a great loss to the health system, and I call on Minister Litzman to intervene and restore the situation to what it was,” Shmuli said, referring to the time before Rotstein decided to merge oncology units.
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