Hadassah’s children

The children who are battling cancer have suffered enough. It is time everyone keep that in mind.

June 15, 2017 22:35
3 minute read.
protest at Hadassah-University Medical Center

‘LITZMAN AND ROTSTEIN are killing our children out of greed!’ say the two signs on the left during the protest at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The main victims of the tragedy at Hadassah-University Medical Center’s Pediatric Hematology- Oncology Department are those who are most vulnerable and blameless in society: children with cancer. Their suffering is proof that our unredeemed world is still a place in which sinless people suffer horribly.

No one is hurt by these children. And, of course, no one can remain indifferent to the plight of their parents, siblings, friends and loved ones.

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For those unfamiliar with the details, here is the basic outline of the tragedy: In 2014 Hadassah Medical Organization – which runs the hospital’s Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus facilities in Jerusalem – was on the verge of financial collapse, with an accrued deficit of over NIS 1 billion.

The government signed an agreement allowing HMO to maintain control of the two hospitals on condition it revamp its operations. The government also agreed to inject hundreds of millions of shekels into the hospital.

In 2015, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman appointed former Sheba Medical Center director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein as Hadassah’s director-general with a mandate to transform it into a viable and profitable health care provide.

One of the steps recommended by Rotstein was a reorganization of the pediatric hematology-oncology department. Rotstein proposed combining certain functions of the pediatric department – such as bone-marrow transplants – within the regular oncology department, which is located in another building. He also proposed introducing medical tourism.

The dedicated team in the pediatric oncology department strongly opposed the move, claiming these reforms and others proposed by Rotstein would severely undermine the level of treatment received by the Israeli children.

Last month, a labor court ruled in favor of the doctors who resigned earlier this month. The impact of their resignation was amplified by the fact that these doctors work in a field in which lucrative private practice is not an option and in which there is a severe shortage of experts. This – along with the psychologically and emotionally demanding nature of the work – makes pediatric oncology one of the least popular fields of medicine.

The court accepted the doctors’ claim that they could not be forced to continue to work at Hadassah under the conditions dictated by Rotstein. The court also recognized that, while the doctors and Rotstein were split, both sides had valid claims. “Each sees the reality from a different lens,” the judges wrote.

Unfortunately, Rotstein has alienated and polarized the sides. One example: Around Purim, Rotstein distributed a document called Megillat Hadassah in which the doctors of the pediatric hematology-oncology department were compared to the evil biblical characters Haman, Vashti and Zeresh.

Almost needless to say, relations between Hadassah’s management and doctors – even those from departments not connected to the battle – have deteriorated.

Litzman has been remarkably intransigent throughout. Only last month, just days before the labor court ordered in favor of the doctors, he publicly offered to appoint a mediator. But it was too little too late.

PR firms and lawyers who represent the doctors and the parents of the children have added fuel to the fire, further deepening the rift.

The arrangement – patched together in recent weeks by Rotstein to shuttle into Hadassah doctors from Sheba Medical Center – is not a solution.

There is desperate need for an outsider, known and respected by the sides, to introduce emotional intelligence, leadership and wisdom. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must get involved to salvage the situation. One solution might be to bring the sides together to reach a compromise that would enable the pediatric oncologists of Hadassah to return.

Another option is to transfer the department – complete with the staff – to Shaare Zedek Medical Center. SZMC’s director-general Jonathan Halevy has said that if Litzman backs down and agrees to license his hospital, a pediatric hematology-oncology department could be opened within a few months.

The children who are battling cancer have suffered enough. It is time everyone keep that in mind.

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