(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Wolfson Medical Center director-general Dr. Yitzhak Berlovich will ask that a plan to hand over the Holon hospital to a health fund be abrogated. The plan would make Wolfson the first state-owned hospital to be privatized.
Berlovich, a former senior deputy director-general in the Health Ministry, said failure to reach agreement with the hospital's workers and rehabilitate its infrastructure doomed the plan.
The plan was initiated by the Treasury's budgets division and approved by the cabinet four years, even though the Shoshana Netanyahu State Judicial Commission on the Health System had recommended that all state medical centers be turned into nonprofit hospital corporations rather than be privatized.
But the cabinet decided, under the Finance Ministry's instigation, to instead transfer ownership of the hospital to a health fund, and Maccabi Health Services was chosen to receive it.
The plan for Wolfson was to serve as a pilot project for severing Health Ministry control over state hospitals, since owning medical centers and supervising them constitutes a conflict of interest.
Not only did the Treasury not ask Maccabi to pay for taking over Wolfson, it offered to add about NIS 100 million to help rehabilitate the hospital's water, sewage and other infrastructure. Due to Treasury cuts and government neglect, the hospital has deteriorated seriously in recent years, causing harm to patients and staff. Several departments that have been among the best in the country are losing top doctors to other hospitals.
"Maccabi wanted a hospital without problems," Berlovich told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "There was an understanding that the Treasury would pay for rehabilitating the infrastructure, as no state hospitals with emergency rooms make a profit - except maybe Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. It's hard to know why the Treasury chose Wolfson to be the first, because it is not the only one in deficit." He said repairing infrastructure would cost about NIS 160m.
To speed up negotiations with the hospital unions representing some 2,000 employees, the Treasury started to "dry up state funds" for Wolfson, Berlovich said. The workers have not reached an agreement over their rights and benefits if the hospital is turned over to Maccabi, he said.
"Drying up funds hurts patients and is not a good tactic," he said. "The Treasury should have funded repair work immediately and not wait for a deal to be worked out."
Berlovich left his senior position in the Health Ministry about a year ago, even though he knew Wolfson was due to be handed to Maccabi.
"I knew the hospital had lots of problems, and I wanted to finish the transfer one way or another," Berlovich said. "There are advantages if Maccabi, the second largest health fund, takes it over, but it has taken too much time. I will ask Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri to get the agreement of Finance Minister Roni Bar-On to cancel the deal and bring it for approval to the cabinet. Even a representative of the Treasury's Accountant General said in the Knesset [on Tuesday] that the deal was a bad one. There is still a possibility of it going through if it is completed in three month, but no more. There is no target date in the Treasury for completion of negotiations."
In response, the Treasury spokesman said: "The Finance Ministry is working toward the transfer of Wolfson Medical Center to Maccabi Health Services. It is a complicated process whose implementation requires reaching understanding with hospital management and the union. The process will continue to be carried out with sensitivity for all sides that are involved."