Until Jerusalem's venerable Bikur Holim Hospital is sold to private entrepreneurs, its 270 retirees - who since it was put into official receivership in 2003 have received their monthly pensions late or not at all - will get them from the Treasury via the Health Ministry.
This agreement was reached recently by the official receiver, lawyer Shlomo Shahar and his representative Ya'acov Spiegelman, and the Finance Ministry. Under the agreement, the NIS 400,000 a month in pension payments will be released by the Treasury to the Health Ministry, which will allocate the funds as "support" for non-governmental organizations to the receiver, which will then pay the pensioners. The agreement covers July pensions, which the retirees have not yet received, and payments for August. It is hoped that subsequently, the 220-bed hospital in the center of Jerusalem will be sold.
Although the money will not come from the Health Ministry's budget itself, Health Minister and Gil Pensioners Party MK Ya'acov Ben-Yizri has welcomed the agreement, saying he was sorry that "in this day and age, people are not getting the pension they deserve by law."
Health Ministry deputy director-general Dr. Yitzhak Berlovich told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the 180-year-old hospital would have to operate under the ownership of private investors as it has for over a century, under the aegis of a non-profit haredi organization. "It will have to continue to run its emergency room and all other services," Berlovich said.
When Bikur Holim is sold, the buyers also automatically receive the Health Ministry license to function as a medical institution. "It will not have to renew the license at purchase," said Berlovich, "but we will continue to send - as we regularly do - our staff to make sure that they continue to meet our medical standards."
The highest bid so far has been from the Levinger-Reichman group. These entrepreneurs offered the Jerusalem District Court - which makes decisions about the receivership - a bid of $25.5 million for the hospital and committed itself to operating it as a general hospital for at least 15 years. The investment group is headed by ophthalmology Drs. Ronit and Shmuel Levinger and entrepreneur Shmaya Reichman. A recommendation to sell it to this group was made by the official receiver of the venerable Jerusalem hospital a few months ago after a handful of other bids proved less attractive.
Bikur Holim, located on the edge of a haredi neighborhood and very popular among this sector, is running in the black (excluding debts to pensioners), but has accumulated debts of NIS 100 million due to bad management by the voluntary haredi organization that owned and ran it. Management did not deposit salary deductions and employer contributions for pensions for a long time, causing the Treasury to pay them under pressure but without an official agreement. Because of the bankruptcy, there were fears that the hospital would have to close altogether.