Billionaire promises to keep hospital running for at least 15 years.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
After almost four years of despair that it would be closed down and its retired workers left without any pensions, Jerusalem's 180-year-old Bikur Holim Hospital has been given a new chance for life - and preserving the lives of patients - by billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak. Months after making his $32 million bid, the Russian-born businessman and philanthropist was on Wednesday named the new owner by Jerusalem District Court Judge Yosef Shapira.
"I feel we have been rewarded for our very hard work," Bikur Holim director-general Bari Bar-Zion - a former Finance Ministry official with expertise in economics, business and public administration - told The Jerusalem Post. "Our medical director, Dr. Raphael Pollack, and I have received backing from the official receiver, Shlomo Shahar, and from our employees. We took an institution that was bankrupt and on the edge of closing and turned it into an economically viable institution for which a large sum has been paid. Then, nobody believed it would end this way," Bar-Zion said. "The workers are in a bit of a euphoria."
Gaydamak, who visited the downtown Jerusalem hospital in person only once, but whose associates have been there for months to learn the business, gave Bar-Zion the impression of being "a businessman who also works in philanthropy, feels the distress of the workers and city residents who didn't want to lose it and also detects that money can be made. We are a bit into the black and now making some money, and you can do this at a hospital while providing very good medical care, even under the difficult conditions of receivership."
Gaydamak, who beat out a number of competitors - some of whom wanted to turn the campus into high-priced real estate - committed himself to running it as a general hospital for five years, and promised that he would continue to do so for at least 15 beyond that. He will pay an additional $3 million for the hospital if the hekdesh (charitable trust status) handed down since its establishment in the early 19th century is cancelled, meaning that there will be no barrier to running it as a business.
Bikur Holim's new owner said he would expand the hospital and even pay workers a 2% wage increase (although their salaries are still lower than at other Jerusalem medical centers). The Finance Ministry, which has invested NIS 38 million on pensions and other expenses since the hospital went into receivership almost four years ago, will not give more money. Thus, the pensions of 230 hospital workers who have already retired and 250 others who have pension benefits are dependent on how much of the $32 million will be left after the hospital pays off its malpractice insurance debts to the Madanes company, which is demanding $12 million for for "run-off" insurance services covering the hospital's activities from 1993 up to now.
Although Bikur Holim lost qualified doctors and other professionals after being put into temporary receivership, the staff has stabilized in the last six months and management has invested some $8 million, all of it from private donors, in medical equipment, renovation, improvements and expansion.
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