Bikur Holim buyer won't be able to privatize its beds
"There's no justification for an expansion of private medicine... Public hospital beds are a public resource," Lipschitz tells 'Post.'
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
The Health Ministry will not allow any entity that buys Jerusalem's Bikur Holim Hospital from tycoon Arkady Gaydamak to turn the publicly licensed beds into privately owned beds, ministry deputy director-general Dr. Yoel Lipschitz told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Gaydamak, who left Israel a few months ago for Moscow and has applied for the reinstatement of his Russian citizenship, bought the hospital in August 2007 with a commitment to maintain it as a public-bed hospital for at least five years and, he hoped, for "at least 15."
But since he suffered an embarrassing loss (3.6 percent of the vote) in last November's race for Jerusalem mayor, his financial situation has skidded and with the downtown hospital continuing to lose money, he has been desperately trying to sell it.
Kupat Holim Meuhedet, the country's third-largest public health fund, which previously purchased Misgav Ladach Hospital in another part of the capital, is involved in serious negotiations with Gaydamak's representatives to buy Bikur Holim. The health fund is reportedly interested in running the institution, located in a mostly haredi area, as a private hospital.
Thus it would not need to have an expensive-to-run emergency room, but merely to take paying (or well-insured) patients for surgery and consultations. Misgav Ladach, which has been involved in disagreements over the running of its day surgical services by a contracting physician, is used for geriatric chronic care, colonoscopies and other services, rather than as the obstetrics and gynecological hospital it was for over a century.
Lipschitz, the ministry official who oversees the functioning of the health funds, said the owner of Bikur Holim can sell the property but can't sell the public license obtained from the ministry for public hospital services.
"Our principles are clear: There is no lack of private medicine in Israel, including in Jerusalem. There is no justification now for such an expansion of private medicine. If Meuhedet or anyone else want to offer private medicine, they can purchase existing privately licensed beds, but they cannot turn public beds into private ones," Lipschitz said. "Public hospital beds are a public resource and can not be marketed. If Bikur Holim were to close as a public hospital, the public beds must return to the state. The ministry could decide to allow the capital's public hospitals such as the two Hadassah University Medical Centers or Shaare Zedek Medical Center to expand the number of their beds."
Bikur Holim - one example of Gaydamak's numerous money-losing purchases in the last year or two - offers mainly obstetrics services to its largely haredi local clientele as well as cardiac services to patients from throughout the city.
Although Maccabi Health Services, the second largest health fund, wanted to convert public beds into private ones, it was not permitted to do so, Lipschitz said. Instead, it bought them from the Herzliya Medical Center and opened the new private Assuta Hospital in north Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahayal quarter.
According to unofficial reports, Gaydamak - who paid $32 million for Bikur Holim - may be forced to sell it at a NIS 60m. loss as he liquidates his assets in Israel.
A number of meetings have been held in recent weeks with hospital staffers who are very nervous about a sale: Many doctors and other staffers would not be needed in a private hospital. When Bikur Holim was owned by a voluntary haredi organization before Gaydamak bought it, hundreds of pensioners faced losing their retirement funds because the hospital had gone into bankruptcy.
Haredi politicians are fond of Bikur Holim not only because of its history, but also because of its location. It is likely that after haredi parties enter the next government coalition, their MKs would fight any change in the hospital's status; also, the campus can't easily be turned into a real estate project because some buildings are on the preservation list and a hi-rise would not be permitted.
Bikur Holim spokesman Shimon Malka declined to comment, as did the spokeswoman of Meuhedet, who only said it was "negotiating with the owner, but as the talks are not ripe, we won't comment further."
The municipality spokesman said Mayor Nir Barkat would not comment, adding the hospital was a "private body and not connected to the municipality."
He did not mention the fact that it contains publicly licensed beds.
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