Labor court orders Hadassah to freeze dismissal of 100 freelance dentists contracted to teach

Medical organization says move part of recovery plan; dentists claim school would close without them.

HEBREW UNIVERSITY-HADASSAH School of Dental Medicine 370 (photo credit: American Friends of the Hebrew UniversityKen Child)
HEBREW UNIVERSITY-HADASSAH School of Dental Medicine 370
(photo credit: American Friends of the Hebrew UniversityKen Child)
The Jerusalem Regional Labor Court on Monday issued an order to the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) to halt, at least temporarily, its hearings of 100 dentists who have been selected by management for dismissal.
The court told HMO and representatives of the dentists to appear at a court session on September 11. The decision seemed to imply that it was displeased by the way HMO had handled the matter.
The dentists, who are paid as freelance contractors by Hadassah and are not members of the Hebrew University- Hadassah School of Dental Medicine faculty, maintain that HMO director-general Avigdor Kaplan’s decision to dismiss them would bring about the closure of the dental school, which is one of only two in the country. The other is Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Dental Medicine, which over the years has been threatened with closure due to financial losses.
HMO spokeswoman Rachel Goldblatt initially told The Jerusalem Post that the dentists whom Kaplan had invited for dismissal hearings all “provide dental services to private patients, and that the firings were necessary because HMO wants to halt the financial losses suffered by such business dealings.”
Goldblatt said all of the targeted dentists have private practices and the planned dismissals are part of the recovery plan prepared by Kaplan.
The HMO spokeswoman did not explain how the private dental services were money-losers and why they could not become profitable with higher fees. She denied that the school would be forced to close, but she acknowledged that Kaplan – an insurance expert, and not a physician – was brought in a few months ago to deal with HMO’s huge operating deficit of NIS 3,000,000 and its NIS 1 billion accumulated deficit.
“Avigdor Kaplan is not to blame for the deficit; he was hired to heal HMO financially,” she said.
Goldblatt changed her statement somewhat, when pressed, and did not deny that some or many of the freelance dentists teach at the school.
“The dental school is not in danger because we are not dismissing members of the dental school faculty,” she stressed.
Hebrew University-Hadassah Dental School dean Prof. Adam Stabholz said he thought the school was in danger of closing but hoped it would survive.
Dr. Yael Houry-Haddad, a dentist who represents those threatened with dismissal, denied Goldblatt’s claims that all of them provide only dental services for HMO’s business activities. She insisted that most of the 100 dentists spend a day or two a week teaching basic dentistry courses.
“Some of them have taught there for 20 or 30 years,” she said. “Those who teach one day a week earn a net monthly salary of about NIS 1,000. It doesn’t pay for them economically, but they do it to pass down their knowledge to the next generation.”
The school has, in addition to the freelancers, 30 full-time dentists who are members of the faculty. Their jobs are not at risk, said Houry-Haddad.
Half of the 160 dentists who work at Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem campus teach; a quarter treat patients, and the rest conduct dental research, she explained.
The Hebrew University is responsible for paying faculty members and running the dental school, and it funds salaries largely through the Council of Higher Education’s powerful Committee for Planning and Budgeting (CPD).
Dentistry is the most expensive of all professions and curricula to teach, which could explain the shaky financial situation of both schools over the years.
CPD recently increased its dental-student subsidies to NIS 100,000, said Houry-Haddad.
However, the actual cost of training during the clinical (not theoretical) years is NIS 150,000 per student.
Once the freelance dentists are fired, “they will not come back again to teach. They will be lost to the dental school. They have their private practices and don’t need teaching to go on,” she said.
The growing need for young dentists -- given the fact that professional dentists are aging and there is little immigration of such professionals -- has led to increasing the student body in Jerusalem to 80 in the first year. The sixth year has only 50 students. According to Houry-Haddad, without the freelance dentists teaching students, the school “will not be able to function. There is no one else who teaches the basic courses.”
She claimed that Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which owns HMO, “did not give Kaplan permission to dismiss dentists,” but Goldblatt said there was no difference between Kaplan’s views and HWZOA’s.
“The Hebrew University and [HMO] have a long history of fruitful collaboration in various areas, such as teaching, research, personnel, maintenance and [property]. The academic year at the Faculty of Dental Medicine and the Faculty of Medicine will open as usual,” a Hebrew University spokesman said.
The Health Ministry spokeswoman commented, “We will study the process and make sure to preserve the training of dentists. If for any reason Hadassah leaves this field, we will find an alternate way to train them in coordination with the CPB.”
There have been reports, some of which were denied, that the School of Physiotherapy in Jerusalem and the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine are endangered by HMO’s recovery program.