Clalit Health Services ordered to disclose secret agreement

HMO ordered to hand over portions of an agreement it signed with one of major donors, Schneider family, after refusal to disclose information.

clalit hospital 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
clalit hospital 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Clalit Health Services was ordered on Monday to hand over portions of an agreement it signed with one of its major donors, the Schneider family of New York, to the Movement for Freedom of Information.
The Tel Aviv District Court intervened after Clalit refused to disclose the information requested under the Freedom of Information Law, for fear that doing so would damage the family’s privacy and put future donations at risk.
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The request was first submitted in November 2007, following the publication of a news story detailing procedures involved in the hiring and firing of chief administrators at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva. According to the report, the Medical Development for Israel Inc. Foundation’s chairwoman, Lynn Schneider, had demanded that the hospital’s then-manager be fired, and there was a clause in the agreement between the HMO and the foundation that the foundation had to approve the appointments of the hospital’s senior management.
The Schneider family had reportedly given the HMO NIS 60 million back in 1991.
Following Clalit’s refusal to hand over the document, the Movement for Freedom of Information petitioned the court claiming that the refusal breached the Freedom of Information Law and harmed the public’s right to information about the running of a vital public service.
In its response to the court, Clalit Health Services said that exposing the information would compromise the privacy of the Schneider family and the HMO’s commitments to the family, as well as put at risk the hospital’s future fundraising activities.
“Directed philanthropy, especially on a large scale, is a sensitive and complex matter, and donors generally do not wish the details of their philanthropic endeavors made public at the whim of others. For an individual donor, philanthropy combines issues of personal wealth and emotional commitment, both of which are almost universally considered private affairs,” the donors wrote in a letter to the court.
“The Schneider family is a significant contributor to the State of Israel and the healthcare of children. It is no exaggeration to state that without the Schneider family’s generosity, Israel would not today enjoy a children’s tertiary care hospital like the Schneider Children’s Medical Center, and the Israeli public health system would not today benefit from the direct and indirect ramifications of such an institution.”
Clalit was only willing to attest that from an examination of the agreement, it found that no return was given to the donors for their contribution and that the hospital was under no formal obligation to the donors.
In judging the case, Judge Michal Agmon said she had to balance between the family’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know, both equal basic rights.
“The public interest that stands at the base of this information request is the need for transparency when it comes to ties between a public institution, and in this case we are dealing with a public institution that is central to the Israeli health system, and a private institution, regarding the provision of a vital and basic public service,” the judge wrote.
“Withholding the information that this request seeks prevents the public from overseeing transactions between public authorities and donors. Only access to the information will enable the public to confirm or deny misgivings or fears regarding the authority’s operations.”
The judge said that as “the owners” of the hospital, the public had a right to know what agreements were signed. “Despite the natural tendency to protect an individual’s ownership of information regarding his or her private affairs, when it comes to information held by a public body, it must be realized that the information actually belongs to the public,” she said.
At the same time, the judge determined that certain sections of the agreement were indeed of a private nature, and that disclosing them would infringe on the right to privacy.
“The details of the agreement that deal with the amount that the Schneider family donated and the method and timing of payment fall under the protection of privacy law,” Agmon wrote. “The remaining details of the agreement, however, are details whose exposure would not harm the donor’s privacy.”
In the end, the judge ordered Clalit Health Services to hand over a copy the agreement, but allowed it to first redact all portions that deal with the amount of the contribution and the timing and method of payment.