Underfunding puts care for 2 million citizens at risk, hospital heads say

The rally took place in a tent filled with hospital beds representing the beds that will soon be empty because the hospitals will be able to treat only urgent cases.

The managers of seven public hospitals gathered in front of the Finance Ministry (photo credit: Courtesy)
The managers of seven public hospitals gathered in front of the Finance Ministry
(photo credit: Courtesy)
    Several public hospitals, including Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah-University Medical Center, might be forced to turn patients away starting from Wednesday due to financial difficulties.
    The managers of seven facilities gathered in front of the Finance Ministry on Sunday for the second time in the span of a few days to denounce the dramatic crisis they are facing and to call on the government to act quickly.
    Among those attending the protest were Shaare Zedek director Prof. Ofer Merin, Hadassah head Prof. Zeev Rotstein, Laniado Medical Center CEO Nadav Chen, Nazareth’s English Hospital director Prof. Fahed Hakim, Nazareth’s Holy Family Hospital director Prof. Ibrahim Harbaji and Bnei Brak’s Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center director Shlomo Rothschild.
    “The battlefront that allows Israel to function has been deserted,” said Rotstein. “We want to give our heart and soul to the patients, but we do not have the resources. My heart is pounding because I cannot give necessary medicines to patients in the emergency room.”
    “We feel humiliated, like second-class hospitals,” he added, referring to the gap in funding between their facilities and hospitals directly owned and funded by the government or by the health funds.
    Public hospitals in Israel are independent and rely mostly on donations.
    They serve about two million people – or about 20% of the population. According to the organizers of the protests, their facilities receive about half the funds per bed than government-owned hospitals, or NIS 200 million annually compared to NIS three billion.
    The rally took place in a tent filled with hospital beds representing those that will soon be empty because the hospitals will only be able to treat urgent cases.
    The financial emergency happens against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put unprecedented strain on the health system. According to the managers, the crisis has exposed years of neglect and underfunding.
    “We operate in cities where the morbidity is high and the vaccination rate is low,” said Nazareth’s French Hospital director Dr. Nail Elias, highlighting the importance of solving the crisis both in light of the pandemic and for what will come after it.
    “After half a year of repeated requests to the Finance Ministry to no avail, it’s an embarrassment that we are forced to stand here today,” Merin explained. “I appeal to the prime minister and finance minister: Let’s dismantle this tent together, so we can return to our patients. Otherwise, as long as this issue is not resolved, we will continue to sit here day after day.”
    The hospital heads emphasized that barring any change, on Wednesday they will need to start operating in emergency mode, treating only patients in life-threatening situations. They added that they are facing difficulties to pay salaries and supplies, with some suppliers having already halted deliveries.
     “We do not know how to pay our suppliers and employees at the end of the month; we do not have anyone to talk to in the Finance Ministry,” cried Rothschild.
    “And what are we asking for? Just that ambulances will be able to go to Hadassah or Shaare Zedek on Wednesday, and not be forced to travel all the way to the central part of the country,” he added. “We demand a solution for the patients of Israel.”
    “The prime minister, and the finance and health ministers should be ashamed of this situation,” concluded Chen. “This is the last chance to save our hospitals. The citizens of Jerusalem, Netanya, Bnei Brak and Nazareth are equal to the citizens of the rest of the country.”
Later on Sunday a group of nine MKs sitting in the Finance Committee both from the coalition and the opposition sent a letter to the chair of the committee Moshe Gafni requesting an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis of the public hospitals.
   Hannah Brown contributed to this article.