Ashdod bid for hospital offends neighboring medical centers

Existing Ashkelon, Rehovot hospitals say competing project is unnecessary.

ashdod port 88 (photo credit: )
ashdod port 88
(photo credit: )
An advertising campaign launched by the Ashdod Municipality to persuade the state to grant a Health Ministry license to the planned non-profit hospital in the city has deeply offended Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, which treat most residents of Ashdod. The campaign, produced by Morel-Tzur Communications - which has run many political campaigns over the years - placed radio and newspaper ads presenting Ashdod residents whose relatives had "died outside the gate" of the Ashkelon and Rehovot hospitals, with the message that they lived too far away to get medical help in time. Thus, said the advertising campaign run by Motti Morel, a medical center "must" be built in Ashdod to save lives. The ads also named "Olmert" for not carrying out a decision by a previous government to build a state hospital in the city. The spokespeople of both hospitals told The Jerusalem Post that hospital management and staff were very hurt, as the message implied that medical care in their institutions was not good enough to save those who "died." Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenboim said the hospitals in the region did "excellent work," and added that if the Morel campaign insulted them, "it should be stopped." The ministry was in favor of an Ashdod hospital, and Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri has expressed this in the past - "and will encourage its establishment," Shimron-Greenboim said. She added that "the ministry was involved in a discussion of whether [another] law is needed to bring it about or this government need just decide to establish a hospital. Even if the ministry agrees to forgo the passage of a law, it will not forgo the demand to set up a hospital in Ashdod," she said. The Treasury has long opposed this, however, even though the private investors say they will cover all costs. When the Post questioned longtime Ashdod Mayor Zvi Zilker about the media campaign and said the two hospitals were offended by it, he said he didn't know the content of the campaign, as the head of the effort to bring a hospital to his city, Dr. Yehiel Lasri, was supervising Morel's lobbying efforts. "No offense was made," said the mayor, "and we did not have such an intention." He praised the hospitals for the huge efforts they have made to provide medical care to Ashdod residents." After speaking to the Post, Zilker contacted his personal secretary and instructed her to send a letter to Lasri, demanding that the offensive part of the campaign be halted and replaced. Ashdod has been demanding a hospital of its own for decades, Zilker said, as far back as when the city had 30,000 residents. Today 235,000 people lived there, and if a hospital license was granted now and it was built in six years, by then there would be more than a quarter of a million, he continued. The mayor said he knew of no city of that size in the Western world that didn't have a center. At present, Ashdod has only an emergency room to treat urgent cases, but nowhere to hospitalize them. A public tender was issued some time ago by the Treasury for groups that want to build such a hospital at their own expense - rather than the state's - and run it as a non-profit organization. So far, three groups have put in a bid: Refuah Viyeshua (composed of Gur hassidim, at the bidding of the Admor of Gur); Assuta Hospital (a chain of private hospitals owned by Maccabi Health Services); and Electra Real Estate. Some sources said that the last two plan to present a united bid for the tender. United Torah Judaism MK Ya'acov Litzman, a Gur hassid, has reportedly been lobbying on behalf of the hospital project and especially for the Gur bid. The Barzilai spokeswoman, Leah Malul, said the hospital was "very hurt" by Morel's campaign. "We have saved many lives among the 500,000 people we serve in this area. Why reduce our morale? Our staff have been working like crazy due to the Kassam rocket attacks. The tender is none of our business, but we feel there is no need for another hospital in the region, as Ashkelon is just a short drive away from Ashdod. The Health Ministry itself has said there is need for new hospitals in the South and in the Haifa suburbs," she said, and that 3,000 more hospitals beds are needed in various parts of the country." Kaplan spokesman Ofir Levy said his hospital served an area with nearly 600,000 residents and has devoted treated the 25 percent of Ashdod residents who come for its services. "We can and must continue to deepen our services for Ashdod residents... There is no doubt that we need more funds to improve our physical infrastructure so it will suit the high level of medical and technological standards that we offer. This will be much more efficient and cheaper than building an entirely new hospital so close by." Sources at Lasri's headquarters fighting for the new hospital said they believed Barzilai and Kaplan were behind the effort to prevent the building and licensing of an Ashdod medical center. Morel said his office was chosen by Lasri's office to run the campaign. "We proposed three different ones, and this one was chosen. If I am told to change it, I will do so." The High Court of Justice met this week to hear an petition by the Ashdod Municipality against the Treasury and said the law passed years ago for the establishment of the hospital was in effect and must be observed. Justice Eliezer Rivlin told the sides to return in 60 days. Morel claimed that the Health Ministry, which owned and ran Barzilai, wanted to "preserve its monopoly. Our campaign for an Ashdod hospital will continue until the tractors are allowed to move in." Asked why the Gur hassidic group wanted to finance a hospital, Morel explained that just as other haredi groups built Netanya's Laniado Hospital and Bnai Brak's Ma'ayanei Hayeshua Hospital, "they want to do good deeds."