Bikur Cholim on way to closure as board members resign

Treasury says it has no intention of giving NIS 30 million needed for the Jerusalem hospital to stay open that management, workers requested.

Bikur Cholim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Bikur Cholim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem’s venerable Bikur Cholim Hospital seemed on Wednesday to be nearing Doomsday, as its executive board resigned after the Finance Ministry said it will not provide the NIS 30 million to stay open that management and workers had requested.
The Histadrut declared a work dispute to try to help the hospital’s 650 workers, who have been told that without the grant, it would close at the end of December.
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The closing of a 200-bed hospital at a time when the country’s hospital system lacks hundreds of beds seems ludicrous. But Bikur Cholim’s medical departments have been shrinking in recent years, as employees who could find other jobs left.
The chairman of the board during the last few months, former Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar, said he was resigning because all the authorities he turned to declined to help the 140-year-old hospital in the capital’s downtown area.
Blachar said that in effect, the board’s resignation launched the process of the hospital’s closing.
Blachar said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is formally health minister, “showed no interest and didn’t even respond to requests by Bikur Cholim for help, even though he has responsibility for the subject.”
Although Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman stated a few weeks ago that his office will do “all it could” to keep the hospital alive, and called on Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to intervene, just it had previously done to save Netanya’s Laniado Hospital, The Jerusalem Post has learned that in fact, he does not want the dying institution to be resuscitated, due to intraharedi political disputes.
Asked by the Post on Wednesday for a comment on the board’s resignation, Treasury spokeswoman Sivan Carmon said that Bikur Cholim is a voluntary institution “that is not supported by the state. It must turn to the courts as its financial condition declines and makes it impossible to run.
The workers, who probably will not receive their full pensions, have been lending the hospital NIS 1.1 million a month from their wages.
Russian oligarch Arkady Gaydamak, who promised about three years ago when he purchased the property to operate it for an extended period, has not put any money into Bikur Cholim for almost two years and distanced himself from it – even demanding the paying of rent from the voluntary organization that runs the hospital.
“The government is preparing its position in accordance with considerations relating to public health, including the possibility of dividing Bikur Cholim’s license between Jerusalem’s Hadassah- University Medical Centers and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.”
Bikur Cholim’s response to the Treasury statement was that the “bureaucratic answer given by the Treasury restresses the apathy shown to the population it serves.”
Laniado, which is also a voluntary hospital, received a NIS 60 million grant from the Treasury a few years ago with no strings attached.
As Gaydamak owns the buildings, selling them will be difficult, especially since many of the structures on Rehov Strauss and Hanevi’im were declared to have architectural and historic value and cannot be dismantled.
The idea of dividing Bikur Cholim’s services between Hadassah and Shaare Zedek, the hospital said, “is a recycled idea from three years ago that will lead to the dismissal of two-thirds of the staff without providing a solution to the hundreds of thousands of residents in the center of town that it serves.”
The Treasury, it concluded, has thus not valued the hospital for its strategic location in the center of Jerusalem, where staffers have repeatedly saved the lives of terror victims.
“No one will be able to wash his hands of responsibility when the hospital closes and people lose their lives,” according to Bikur Cholim.
Shaare Zedek director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy, in a phone call from California where he is on hospital business, said that if Bikur Cholim indeed shuts down, he would be “extremely sorry that it ends this way and feel sympathy for its employees.”
If it occurs, Hadassah and Shaare Zedek would be able to fill the vacuum in most services on their own campuses.
But Bikur Cholim’s obstetrics department, where 6,000 babies are born annually – compared to twice that in Shaare Zedek and 11,000 at the two Hadassah hospitals – could not immediately be replaced.
“It would take time to make arrangements,” he said. As Shaare Zedek increases its share of Bikur Cholim’s patients, it could hire some of the workers it needed to expand services.
The Hadassah Medical Organization spokeswoman said it received a request from the Health Ministry to discuss the future of Bikur Cholim.
“We are examining the request,” she said.