Bikur Cholim could get a second lease on life

Staffers protest outside Knesset during crucial committee meeting.

Bikur Cholim Protest 311 (photo credit: Yossi Lipsitz)
Bikur Cholim Protest 311
(photo credit: Yossi Lipsitz)
Jerusalem’s bankrupt and critically ill Bikur Cholim Hospital received two hours of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday, but it could easily be dead by Sunday morning.
MKs and employees at the 143-year-old hospital encouraged the resuscitators to go on; Health Ministry officials could only helplessly wring their hands and watch; while the Treasury official who has the most say in the matter – 34- year-old deputy budgets division head Moshe Bar-Simantov – tried to turn off the ventilator, send it for burial and divide up the “inheritance” among the capital’s three major hospitals.
Knesset to decide if Bikur Cholim hospital lives or dies
Bikur Cholim on way to closure as board members resign
As the community hospital – whose buildings are owned by Russian-Israeli businessman Arkadi Gaydamak but which is operated by a non-profit voluntary organization, has run out of funding after years of bad management and even suspected corruption, the Finance Committee held an urgent meeting on whether to allocate NIS 30 million (of UTJ’s total annual allocations from the state of NIS 75m.) to keep it going.
But as Bar-Simantov refused, Knesset Committee chairman Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism volunteered to save the hospital by getting faction head MK Menahem Eliezer Moses’s permission to hand over NIS 30m. from his party’s allocations.
The community hospital largely serves the haredi community.
If Bikur Cholim were to be closed, it would be the first hospital closure in the history of the state and come when the health system lacks many hundred of beds.
Bar-Simantov blocked the action, saying that the Treasury was not permitted to transfer state funds to a “private hospital,” even though it is in fact a voluntary hospital and Netanya’s Laniado Medical Center received NIS 60m. in direct state funding to keep it open three years ago.
The Finance Ministry refused The Jerusalem Post’s request last night to interview Bar-Simantov and did not comment.
At the end of the noisy session, Gafni said the committee “would not allow” the hospital to shut down, instructed the Treasury to return in 48 hours with a plan to keep it functioning and stated that any approved plan would be enacted no sooner than in 18 months to allow Bikur Cholim to be stabilized and stand on its own feet.
Outside the Knesset, about 100 of Bikur Cholim’s 650 staffers demonstrated in the Rose Garden and called on the government to ensure that they can continue to treat patients and deliver babies while taking home their own monthly wages instead of looking for work or going on the dole.
“We are looking at two aspects – the patients and the workers – while examining the needs of the health system. We can see to it that workers be absorbed by the other hospitals,” the Bar-Simantov said, adding that “we are looking for a long-term solution and will consider a short-term treatment as part of that.”
However, the heads of Hadassah University Medical Centers in Ein Kerem and on Mount Scopus and Shaare Zedek Medical Center have already said they are not interested and could hire only a small number of those fired.
In any case, while some of their departments could pick up the slack, they have no solution at their own facilities for most of the 6,000 women who each year deliver their babies at Bikur Cholim (including many haredi women walking over on Shabbat and festivals instead of taking an ambulance ride); and high-risk pregnancy patients would have to deliver outside the city due to the lack of additional neonatal intensive care units at Hadassah and Shaare Zedek.
Veteran hospital staffers who have long suffered from irregular and inadequate wages from the financially troubled Bikur Cholim and faced being pensionless said the other medical centers would be able to hire only 50 to 100 of them, leaving the rest bereft. Bar-Simantov conceded that he had no intention of ensuring that all the workers get new jobs at other hospitals.
MK Ahmed Tibi of the United Arab List-Ta’al received ovations from religious and rightwing people in the audience when he, an obstetrician who did some of his residency at Bikur Cholim, called for its survival.
Dr. Yoram Blachar, the new chairman of the Bikur Cholim executive board and a former chairman of the Israel Medical Association, said that if the 200-bed institution closed, if terrorist attacks returned to the capital’s heart, people would die because they would not get medical help in time.
Meretz MK Haim Oron said he was sick and tired of hearing the government speak in two voices, with the Health Ministry in favor of survival and the Finance Ministry wanting it closed. He urged that UTJ’s offer of NIS 30m. be accepted to give Blachar time to stabilize the institution and make sure workers get pensions.
Former health minister and Shas MK Nissim Dahan agreed.
“Just today, there are 28 operations scheduled at Bikur Cholim not including catheterizations and deliveries. One patient is a 30-year-old woman with breast cancer who needs a mastectomy. If the hospital closes, she will have to wait in a two-month queue in another hospital and maybe die in the meantime,” Dahan said.
But Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who called for saving the hospital, said a temporary grant was no solution, as it was “only delaying the end”; the formal health minister, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and his Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz did not appear at the session.
Likud MK Tzion Pinyan declared that the Treasury’s desire to save NIS 30m. was pointless, as it would cost NIS 50,000 to NIS 90,000 for every dismissed employee who receives unemployment benefits; for all of them, it would total NIS 10m. and then more for welfare. In addition, as patients unable to walk to other hospitals would order ambulances, it would cost the public purse millions. So would the decline of patients’ health if they avoided the other hospitals because of other concerns.
Gafni suggested “nationalizing” Bikur Cholim and turning it into a state hospital because the public needed it.
Sources who have been involved in the flailing hospital told the Post that the problem “from beginning to end is one of failed management and lack of transparency. All members of the executive board that manages the hospital should be dismissed.”
The source added that the “failed heads of the workers’ unions – who knew about [alleged] illegal transfer of NIS 1.6m. by Dudi Zilbershlag, the former head of the board, to another charity he was running should be forced to leave their posts and the hospital reorganized so it can be run properly. The small number of people involved in wrongdoing should be punished.”
But the source thought the hospital should – and could – survive if it was properly managed and received financial help from the Treasury.