Panel urges building new hospital in Negev

Independent committee calls for 300 new beds to meet growing health needs; Over next two decades, medical center should grow to 900 beds.

Hospital 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hospital 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An independent committee of health, economic, legal and planning experts calls for the construction of a nongovernmental hospital with 300 beds as soon as possible at Lehavim, northeast of Beersheba, to cope with the growing population and medical needs of the Negev.
Over the next two decades, the medical center – which will need a government subsidy to make it viable – should grow to 900 beds.
The 49-page report was prepared over the last two years and just released by the team, which was asked by the Negev Development Authority and the Forum for Health in the Negev of Ben-Gurion University’s Health Sciences Faculty to study the problem and suggest solutions. It was edited by Prof.
Dov Chernichovsky, a leading BGU health economist, and Meir Sahar.
Chernichovsky, who is currently on a professional trip to Mexico, told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview on Tuesday that Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center – the only hospital in the Negev north of Eilat and packed with nearly 1,100 beds – is beyond its optimal capacity.
“From an economic perspective, hospitals anywhere in the world with more than 800 to 1,000 beds are run inefficiently.
It’s almost axiomatic, because the technology of running hospitals requires such limits, and the capacity of managers to control them is overtaken by too many beds.”
As the only medical center in the vast Negev, Soroka has too many patients coming to its emergency room and seeking admission to the wards.
“It has no place to spill over, no nearby hospital that can take some of them,” he said.
A new hospital (or medical school, such as that being established in Safed), attracts additional medical professionals and is able to offer infrastructure, labs, positions and resources to attract newcomers to the region. It could also bring new immigrants with much expertise, said Chernichovsky.
Lehavim, which is not far from the wealthy Beersheba suburbs of Meitar and Omer, where medical professionals might prefer to live, will also be in the vicinity of the new IDF bases being built in the Negev to replace old facilities being dismantled in the center of the country. Chernichovsky said he was “under the impression that the Defense Ministry is very interested by the idea of a new hospital in the area to meet its medical needs.”
The BGU health economist said that a planned hospital for Ashdod, which has been in the works for decades, does not obviate the urgent need for a Negev medical center.
“I believe that everybody at Clalit Health Services, which owns and runs Soroka, knows that it can’t grow much more, but they are reluctant to admit it openly because they fear it might endanger the flow of government resources to Soroka,” said Chernichovsky.
For economic reasons, he did not think that a hospital in Lehavim or any public hospital in Israel should be owned and run by a health fund or the Health Ministry due to the conflict of interest involved.
“They should be turned into hospital trusts [non-profit corporations],” he said.
Lehavim’s hospital should be owned by a non-profit organization or even a for-profit organization, “but the government must understand that it has to support investors and make it an economically feasible project,” he said.
“No nonprofit organization or investors can be expected to run a hospital on a deficit budget,” Chernichovsky insisted.
“The government must underwrite such a project, just like the Trans-Israel Highway.”
So far, although a Health Ministry committee 10 years ago recommended that a second hospital be built in the Negev, the government has not yet announced a firm position on this strategic issue.
A 300-bed hospital could be built in three years or less, he predicted. The initial investment would be NIS 700 million.
“If a new medical facility is not constructed, the level of health care in the Negev – which is already considerably below that in the center of the country – will fall much lower and its large lesser-educated and lower-income population will suffer and have a lower life expectancy,” he said.
“Having another hospital would also provide clinical teaching slots for much-needed medical students,” said Chernichovsky.
Aside from Soroka and Clalit’s small Josephthal Hospital in Eilat, the South has one psychiatric hospital, one mental health clinic in Beersheba and 13 small geriatric and other institutions for those with chronic illness. There are only 1.5 general hospital beds per 1,000 residents in the Negev compared to the 2.0 national average.
Meanwhile, the number of elderly over 65 is due to increase by 50% over the next 15 years, while the high birthrate in the Beduin sector demands expanding the area’s obstetrics facilities.
Just to preserve the Negev’s present level of medicine, 519 more hospital beds are needed by 2025, the report states; to reach the national level, 695 beds must be added, while to reach the level in the Haifa region, 1,876 beds are required.