Knesset to decide if Bikur Cholim hospital lives or dies

Finance committee will either allocate NIS 30m. to 143-year-old hospital to help it survive or will shut it down, dismissing 650 employees.

Bikur Cholim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Bikur Cholim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On Monday morning, the Knesset Finance Committee will finally decide the fate of the capital’s 143-year-old Bikur Cholim Hospital.
If it authorizes a state allocation of NIS 30 million to the hospital, which has existed in the center of Jerusalem since 1925 and was founded six decades before that in the Old City, it will be able to continue functioning. If not, the hospital will shut down and die on December 31, and its 650 employees will be dismissed.
Bikur Cholim staffers will hold a demonstration in the Rose Garden outside the Knesset from 9 a.m. on Monday until after the Finance Committee decides the hospital’s fate.
Two weeks ago, the committee held an emergency session on Bikur Cholim and was told by management that it could no longer function, as it had not received any financial help from the owner of the buildings, Russian- Israeli tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak, for over a year, even though he had committed himself to keep it going for at least five years.
But since then, the Treasury has shown no sympathy, saying the state does not finance hospitals established by voluntary organizations, even though three years ago, the Finance Ministry gave Netanya’s Laniado Medical Center – established and run by Sanz hassidim – NIS 60m. to keep operating.
The Treasury said it would look into the possibility of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Organization and Shaare Zedek Medical Center taking over and sharing Bikur Cholim’s hospital license, but neither has showed any interest in doing so.
It would be the first-ever closing of an Israeli hospital and would come at a time when the health system lacks many hundreds, if not thousands, of beds.
The Health Ministry has not announced any emergency plan that would evacuate patients to other Jerusalem hospitals. While the two Hadassah University Medical Centers and Shaare Zedek could take up the excess in most departments if Bikur Cholim were to close, experts say they could not handle all the pregnant women about to deliver their babies in their own obstetrics department or premature babies in their neonatal intensive care units. Some 6,000 deliveries, most to haredi women, are born in Bikur Cholim each year.
Last week, most members of the hospital’s executive board resigned in protest after the government failed to respond to their pleas for the NIS 30m. grant. Its employees recently began “lending” the management NIS 1.1m. a month in the form of significantly reduced salaries.
The hospital has suffered from very bad luck for decades, with bad management before it was put into receivership and the alleged stealing of NIS 1.6m. by the former head of its board, haredi businessman Dudi Zilberstein, for use in his soup kitchen organization, Meir Panim.
Gaydamak, who mistakenly thought his purchase of Bikur Cholim would win admirers in the haredi community and help him get elected mayor of Jerusalem, tried to sell the property and distanced himself from the hospital, even demanding the payment of rent from the voluntary organization that runs the hospital.
Selling the 85-year-old buildings will be difficult, especially since many of the structures on Rehov Strauss and Haneviim were declared to have architectural and historic value and cannot be dismantled.