Hadassah workers oppose owner's decision to oust D-G

Exclusive: HWZOA contends vote not to renew Mor-Yosef's contract was unanimous.

mor-yosef  (photo credit: Judy Siegel)
(photo credit: Judy Siegel)
Staff members of the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) are in an unprecedented head-to-head confrontation with its longtime owners and patrons, the 98-year-old Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), The Jerusalem Post has learned. The employees have urged that the New York-based women's organization reconsider its decision last month not to renew the contract of HMO director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.
A petition for revoking the decision, signed by the heads of the Hadassah University Medical Center's three unions - including two-thirds of the 330 tenured senior doctors, some department and center heads; nurses; administrative and technical staff - was put together within a few days and sent to HWZOA national president Nancy Falchuk and HMO's international board. The unions who signed represent about 5,000 employees working in 4,000 fulltime job slots.
The doctors' petition stated that "as representatives of all of the employees, we can all say in a voice... that we are united in our great appreciation of the outstanding contribution that Prof. Mor-Yosef has made to our institution. As director-general, he succeeded in initiating a momentum that created an atmosphere of inventiveness, development and creativity that together with the cooperation of the employees led to many changes... The amalgamation of social responsibility to the community and the enactment of organizational accountability... all attest to his skills as a leader..."
A majority of the 15-member HMO international board, consisting of 10 Americans and five Israelis, decided not to extend Mor-Yosef's contract beyond January 2011, when he will complete 10 years in office.
However, the unions have called for the extension of the senior health system administrator's term at least to the end of 2012, when the huge hospitalization tower that will replace inpatient facilities opens.
Mor-Yosef, a 58-year-old trained gynecologist who has spent most of his medical studies and career at HMO and the Hebrew University Medical Faculty, told the HMO board meeting in New York that he wanted to continue, but would put the decision in its hands because he had previously endorsed senior staff rotation after a decade.
The Post learned that international board chairman Yossi Nitzani, a former government and banking official who now is a member of various company boards of directors, abstained in the vote and refused to support the majority that consisted of all but one of the Americans.
The union heads met with HWZOA national president Falchuk in a tense, 90-minute meeting at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel on Friday, during which they presented their petitions and called for Mor-Yosef - widely known to the world as the HMO's official spokesman who briefed the press daily when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon was treated for his strokes there - to be allowed to remain. Falchuk, whose own term officially ends in January 2011 when Mor-Yosef is supposed to leave - said the two sides had a "good dialogue," but she did not disclose any plans to change the board's decision.
As a tender to replace Mor-Yosef will require that the next director-general be an "Israeli physician," senior HMO doctors said they saw no alternative to him, as they did not know of anyone with his credentials, experience and level of personal conduct who could and would be willing to take the job. HMO deputy director-general Dr. Yair Birnbaum, who was brought in by Mor-Yosef, has said he is not a candidate to replace him.
No other Israeli hospital, even those partially supported by voluntary organizations, has a powerful board of directors like HMO's, which meets regularly in New York and Jerusalem and makes major policy and budgetary decisions in plenary and committee sessions. The women's organization has even forbidden HMO from raising funds through an Israeli friends' organization for hospital development, insisting on exclusivity.
But since two-and-a-half years ago, HWZOA's contributions to HMO have dropped by NIS 220 million - and NIS 30 million more when considering the lower value of the dollar. In 2004, HWZOA contributions constituted 10 percent of HMO's operating budget, but in 2009 it dropped by more than half to only 4.1%. Only major development projects such as the hospitalization tower receive a large part of its funding from donors via HWZOA.
Nitzani meets with top HMO administrators on a weekly basis, and HWZOA leaders from New York are directly involved in hospital appointments and budgetary decisions. Mor-Yosef, known to be a charismatic fundraiser as well as a successful, Harvard-educated medical administrator, is the third director-general in a row to be voted out by HWZOA, following Prof. Shmuel Penchas and Prof. Avi Yisraeli.
Senior doctors said the board decision has caused "great unrest" throughout the staff and that employees are constantly asking union heads what they can do to cancel it. While doctors could not strike for ethical reasons, they expected that other unions would take labor action if Mor-Yosef - who has wide support despite the efficiency measures he carried out to reduce costs - is forced out. "Other senior doctors are expected to leave if Mor-Yosef is required to leave," they predicted.
When the Post asked the HWZOA leadership in New York to comment on the staff's petitions and other questions, Nitzani - rather than Falchuk herself - responded from Israel. He confirmed that the Friday meeting at the hotel took place and that Mor-Yosef's leaving was raised.
"The board affirms our respect and affection for him and our appreciation for his [what will be] 10 years of service. We stressed that the announcement was made now so that there would be a year to make the transition. Change is always difficult and unsettling. That's why the HMO board is giving this process enough time to gather input from within and without the hospital and to do a comprehensive search," said Nitzani.
Although the Post noted that the Israelis on the board opposed the decision on Mor-Yosef, Nitzani - who himself abstained - surprisingly declared in the written statement: "The Board decision was unanimous."
As for the claim that the board will not be able to find a high-level physician administrator to replace Mor-Yosef, Nitzani continued that "HMO is a world-class medical center and deserves an international search, with the finest person able to lead this institution into the future. It is a challenging process to find a worthy successor for Prof. Mor-Yosef. Having a deep understanding of Israeli society and culture will be one of the important characteristics that the board will be seeking in a new director-general. Of course, it's likely that the next director-general will be an Israeli. Again, there's enough time to do a thorough and intelligent search. These are indeed big shoes to fill, but over the hospital's long and proud history, outstanding leaders have stepped forward to undertake this important and challenging job."
As for the works committees' petitions and the reported "great unrest" among the staff, Nitzani said: "Change does cause 'great unrest.' That's why the HMO board is taking time to ensure stabilization. Prof. Mor-Yosef has committed [himself] to help his staff make the smoothest transition possible."
Finally, asked whether the board would revoke its decision at its next meeting here in March, Nitzani concluded: "No agenda has been set for this meeting."