Hospital generic 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Sheba Medical Center's 18-bed hospice, which gives emotional and medical support to the dying, will itself "die" by the end of June unless a solution can be found to a bureaucratic nightmare involving the Finance Ministry, the Health Ministry and the country's largest hospital.
A petition from patients and supporters of the hospice is being signed electronically via the Internet, and the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) has sent a letter of protest to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Prof. Shlomo Noy, a deputy director-general of Sheba, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the problem was not one of funding but one of official job slots.
Health funds pay the hospice for caring for dying members, but there are no official job slots for the palliative medical institution's 30 workers, who come from Sheba.
After the Civil Service Commission insisted that the hospice must have official job slots for its staffers, the Treasury was approached by the Health Ministry, which agreed to help out with the job slots. However, the Finance Ministry's budgets division pulled out of the compromise.
"At the moment, there is no solution," said a Health Ministry spokeswoman. "We called on the head of the budgets division to provide an immediate solution to spare the patients and their families unnecessary suffering," but nothing has been done.
The hospice was established just outside the hospital 25 years ago by the ICA and Clalit Health Service, and its staffers were financed by the ICA until 10 years ago, when Sheba took over responsibility.
There is only one other public hospice in the country - at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Mount Scopus - and it is somewhat smaller than Sheba's, which has treated over 10,000 dying patients since its founding.
"We get dozens of queries about admitting dying patients each day," said Noy. "Budgets division officials were at the hospital less than half a year ago, but the problem did not exist then. Now, when we invite them to come and solve the problem, they say they have no time."
The Finance Ministry spokesman said that "a number of possibilities for solving" the hospice problem had been presented to Sheba director-general Prof. Zev Rothstein.
He added that "we are sorry that the hospital is trying to increase its resources at the expense of hospice patients, but we are sure that because of the great importance of the hospice at Sheba, the hospital director-general will adopt one of the proposals we made."
As for the Health Ministry statement, the Treasury spokesman said both ministries were signatories to an agreement in which Sheba would not get additional job slots until 2010.
The Hebrew- and English-language petition to keep the hospice open can be signed by entering the Web site at www.atzuma.co.il:80/petition/reshefj/1/0/1.
Organizers said the Treasury's decision was a "stubborn and inhuman step. The hospice provides people who are doomed [to die of] an irreversible illness a chance to leave this world with proper dignity and minimal suffering. They receive compassionate care from a wonderful clinical and voluntary staff. Can it be that a society that regards itself as humanitarian would let such a horrific act happen because of governmental bureaucracy? Can we allow basic human dignity to be swept under the carpet?"
The petition, which aims to get 10,000 signatures, will be sent to all 120 Knesset members and relevant government officials.
ICA officials said in their letter to Olmert that professional assessments showed a serious shortage of hospices for the dying even without the scheduled closure of Sheba's.