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Jerusalem's Bikur Holim Hospital, put into receivership two years ago, will be sold for $20 million to a group of haredi and national religious investors if Jerusalem District Court Judge Yossi Shapira approves the deal initiated earlier this week.
Bari Bar-Zion, the director general of the 175-year-old general hospital over the last 14 months who has overseen its transformation from a bankrupt institution to one that runs without a deficit, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he hopes Bikur Holim will treat patients "for at least another 175 years."
The chosen bid for the hospital located in the center of town was presented by the Hertzberg Group, which includes Yisrael Hertzberg, Rabbi Daniel Biton, Zvi Sand, Jack Jamal and Rami Ben-David. The first two are haredi businessmen and the last two modern Orthodox.
They committed themselves to run the hospital as a "living business," not as a way to profit from the real estate, Bar-Zion said. The would-be purchasers committed themselves to employing "at least 60 percent" of the 600 workers on the staff.
They did not, however, take upon themselves the burden of covering current and future pensions for staffers, whose actuarial cost is over NIS 200 million. The hospital also had other debts of an additional NIS 200 million.
The hospital director general, who is a former Finance Ministry official and not a physician, said he knows "from personal knowledge that there is sensitivity and willingness in relevant government offices to solve the problem of pensions. There is no doubt that the Knesset Finance Committee and its subcommittee on Bikur Holim Hospital, whose members include MKs Ya'acov Litzman, Haim Oron and Nissim Dahan, are determined to find a solution to the pension problem." The hospital's pensioners had been left high and dry when the previous management failed to make payments to its pension funds. The Treasury has covered most of the pension payments since then, but no long-term commitment has been made.
The would-be buyers made a $1 million deposit for the hospital and signed a draft agreement that commits them to running it for five years with an extension of 13 more. Bar-Zion said they intended to run the 240-bed hospital as a "non-profit but not money-losing institution." Bikur Holim, since its inception by a voluntary organization, has been a haredi institution, said Bar-Zion, and while it is run according to strict Orthodox Jewish rules, it does not discriminate against patients or staff who are not.
He did not offer information about the prospective buyers, but an article in a Hebrew newspaper over the weekend about Biton, described him as a powerful and wealthy rabbi in Jerusalem's Har Nof quarter having among his adherents the mafia man Ze'ev Rosenstein, who is being held for his alleged criminal activities.
Two other bids, one from Kupat Holim Meuhedet and the other from Rabbi Gershon Lieder on behalf of Netanya's Laniado Medical Center, were turned down because they did not meet basic requirements.
Bar-Zion declined to comment on whether he thought the hospital's financial problems required a police investigation only saying, "I am dealing with the present and the future and not the past. This is not my job. We took a bankrupt hospital whose continued existence was in doubt and have turned it into a hospital that runs on a balanced budget."