Man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done. This is especially apt if the woman is married to a cardiac surgeon, is herself a trained pediatrician, has four children aged 10 to 22, runs six kilometers several times a week and is director-general of an 850-bed government hospital.
The indefatigable woman thus described is Dr. Osnat Levtzion-Korach, 49, who has already been involved in the management of three Israeli medical centers, the last as head of Hadassah Mount Scopus, and since last Sunday has become head of Assaf Harofeh (recently renamed the Yitzhak Shamir) Medical Center.
Considering her family background, her endless energy is not surprising. Her late father was Prof. Nehemia Levtzion, who was a Hebrew University of Jerusalem expert in Near East, Islamic and African studies, chairman of the Council for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee (where he promoted the opening of academic colleges); director of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute; president of the Open University; director of the Ben-Zvi Institute and dean of the HU’s humanities faculty. Although secular, he was also closely related to the Rebbe of Belz.
Her mother Tirtza was a teacher and deputy head of Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia high school who established the “Workshop for Preparing Research Papers,” providing many pupils with the tools for undertaking academic writing instead of just taking final exams. She continued this at HU, where she established a center for training teachers from varied backgrounds to supervise the preparation of research papers.
Her parents even lived for a while in Ghana, where he studied the spread of Islam in Africa. They also had four children.
The family lived in Beit Hakerem. Levtzion-Korach studied in the Hebrew University High School, where she met a teen who eventually became her husband – Hadassah University Medical Center cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Amit Korach – and volunteered with Magen David Adom.
“As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor,” Levtzion-Korach recalled in an extensive interview with The Jerusalem Post, even though she had no such role model in the family. “Medicine is the most wonderful profession!”
After serving as an officer in the IDF, she went to the Hebrew University- Hadassah School of Medicine, along with her husband, and then completed residencies in both pediatrics and hospital management at the Hadassah University Medical Center-Ein Kerem, acquiring board certification in both fields.
Following her earning a master’s degree in health administration from Tel Aviv University, she and her husband went to Boston, where she worked at the Center of Excellence for Patient Safety Clinical Research and Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. During her three years in there, she also served as a senior consultant at Boston University’s Program of Management and Variability in Healthcare Delivery and later at PatientFlow Technology, a leader in health care performance improvement, assisting hospitals throughout the US on optimizing the flow of the patients and the usage of resources.
“I love the clinical work, but I was intrigued by medical administration when I had the chance to be an assistant to Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the long-time director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization.”
In that position from 2002 to 2005, she became very familiar with the two Hadassah hospitals.
“Shlomo, being a wonderful mentor, opened the door of hospital management to me. I did many things there. I was fortunate to closely know and greatly appreciate the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America. It was a very good introduction to the medical system, I appreciate very much the women who volunteer for Hadassah. It was they, as the beginning of the 20th century, who established the Tipat Halav [well-baby] centers and contributed so much to Israeli public health.”
At Hadassah, Levtzion-Korach also did fundraising for the hospitals’ development.
Upon her return from Massachusetts in 2008, her first post as a senior hospital administrator was at Assaf Harofeh, but the family continued to live in the Yefe Nof neighborhood, a “sister” of the Beit Hakerem quarter. Now that she is returning to Tzrifin, she will continue to drive daily from Jerusalem. “It’s only 50 minutes,” she said.
The hospital was founded in August 1948 on the grounds of an old British military hospital founded by the British Mandatory power after World War I. From its early days, the hospital was housed in old wooden barracks that were in a terrible state of disrepair. Despite the poor physical conditions, the standard of medical care was always maintained at the highest level by dedicated doctors and nurses.
It was not until the Six Day War that a group of supporting volunteers, who later came to be known as the Friends of Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, decided to carry out a worldwide campaign under the slogan “Evacuate the Barracks.” The success of this campaign, together with the establishment of new Chapters of Friends around the world, was the breakthrough that led to the impressive development of Assaf Harofeh. There she continued to put into practice her expertise in patient safety, quality of care and improvement of processes.
In 2012, Levtzion-Korach replaced retiring Hadassah-Mount Scopus director Prof. Zvi Stern and took over the 350-bed community hospital. She was then only the third woman to direct a public general hospital after Dr. Orna Blondheim, who headed Schneider Children’s Medical Center and is now director of Emek Medical Center in Afula. Dr. Chen Shapira, who headed Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, now heads the northern region of Clalit Health Services.
“I am proud to return to Hadassah and join the management team,” Levtzion-Korach said five years ago upon her appointment. “I intend to focus on implementing the latest advances in patient safety practices, patient-centered care, risk management and quality assurance to serve the needs all the people who come to this 350-bed community hospital every year.”
She added in the interview before leading Mount Scopus that “although I was the hospital director, I also tried to be a social worker. I care about those ‘transparent’ employees, the maintenance workers, the guards and others who are almost invisible. I try to inculcate into the medical staff the importance of empathy with the entire staff, as well as the patients.”
She recalled that one man who appeared on the Mount Scopus campus every day to hand out a daily newspaper was suddenly shifted to another neighborhood, even though he was efficient and always smiled at everybody. “I called his boss and objected to the reassignment. The next day, he was back in front of the hospital.”
“Be empathic and caring. Look at the patient not at the disease,” she always tells hospital residents. “Remember that each patient has a past, present and future. It’s no big deal to have a nice conversation with a young woman who is good-looking. It’s more of a challenge to have a sincere talk with an elderly, sick patient. Be humble. We are not smarter than the rest of the hospital’s staff (nurses, administrators, maintenance staff and so on). We were born to families that had the option of sending us to medical school.”
As a hospital administrator, Levtzion- Korach believes in teamwork.
“I really try to engage employees so they feel they are an important part of the team. We held a course at Hadassah-Mount Scopus on the ‘patient experience.’ When the Health Ministry did a survey of patients in our surgical and internal medicine departments, 90% felt that they were in “good and safe hands.”
Having worked for the last year and a half under controversial Hadassah Medical Organization director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein, Levtzion- Korach has positive things to say about him.
“We had a very good relationship. He is a creative thinker, and he was a true partner to many of the things I did on Mount Scopus.” However, the imbroglio over the pediatric hemato-oncology department that was gutted due to the resignations of numerous oncologists and nurses over dissatisfaction with Rotstein’s policies and behavior “was a very sad chapter,” she commented.
Perhaps it is thanks to her feminine touch, but the hospital director took pains to humanize the relationship with patients.
“We always check records and if a patient celebrates a birthday while hospitalized, we give him or her a gift. I remember that we had a 30-year-old woman patient who had a birthday; although sedated and ventilated, she received from the hospital a beautiful towel – her parents were so moved by the gesture.
She recently returned with one of her sons from Ethiopia, where they volunteered at a hospital that treated children infected with HIV. Levtzion-Korach dreams of one day volunteering in medical clinics for refugees.
The hardest thing about running a medical institution is the problem of resources, she said.
“The financial blanket is too small. We all fight to get the same money. We need to buy more sophisticated equipment that is very expensive.”
Another major task is fighting nosocomial (in-house) infections, which are still rampant in Israel and cause many unnecessary deaths.
“It isn’t caused by Israeli patients having many family members and friends visiting them in the wards,” she insisted. “Infections come from staff members not being careful enough to wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol gel between examinations and treatments of patients. But now we are proactive, and we invest a lot in prevention. It is much better now in Israeli hospitals than it once was.”
Jerusalem is the only place in the country where all of its medical centers offer private medical services (SHARAP). The fees received are shared by the doctor and the medical center.
“I know that the Treasury opposes SHARAP, but I think it’s a good model, at least for the capital, but elsewhere as well. Senior physicians remain in the building in the afternoons and early evenings to see private patients, and if there is an emergency, we don’t have to look for them in private clinics outside, which occurs in government-owned and other public hospitals. But,” she continued, “it has to be strictly regulated so that SHARAP does not come at the expense of public patients and that senior doctors do not spend too much time with private patients.”
At Assaf Harofeh, private medical services are prohibited, so as the new director, she will have to find ways of coping with the exodus of senior doctors in the early afternoons to private clinics outside the campus.
She was named to head Assaf Harofeh after the government decided to six months ago to rename the institution after the late prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. She is aware of the fact that it won’t be easy to get the public to use the new name. Some prominent doctors and rabbis objected half a year ago to the change, with the enthusiastic approval of (United Torah Judaism) Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, even though Assaf Harofeh was a revered rabbi and physician in the 6th century CE.
Many years ago, surprising name changes were carried out also at Petah Tikva’s Hasharon Medical Center, which was renamed the Golda Medical Center after the late prime minister Golda Meir; Poriya Medical Center in Tiberias was renamed for Baruch Padeh (who was Health Ministry director-general and previously director of Poriya from 1974 to 1976). Neither of these names has caught on with the public.
Levtzion-Korach was surprised to hear that the Assaf Harofeh websites in both Hebrew and English still make no mention of Yitzhak Shamir. “We will have to work on it. We also have to change signs and stationery,” she said.
The Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center has a bright future and much potential, as the Tzrifin military base stuck in the middle of a residential area will be knocked down, to be replaced by thousands of new apartments. “This will mean a major addition to our patient population,” she added, “and we will have to serve them.”
While Levtzion-Korach does not have to worry about finding budget to pay salaries – all government hospitals’ wages are automatically covered by the Health Ministry – “that doesn’t mean that the Treasury just gives us everything we need. We have to cover the cost of development ourselves, and we have to pay most of the costs for development by soliciting contributions in Israel and abroad.
“As Assaf Harofeh is pretty much unpronounceable to foreign ears, perhaps it will be easier to solicit donations abroad with the name of Yitzhak Shamir, even if potential donors don’t remember him. We can say he was once an Israeli prime minister.”
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