Doctors shut down Haifa's Rambam Medical Center

Hours-long strike follows deputy health minister's orders to immediately dismiss several doctors who tendered resignation letters in solidarity with residents; doctors at Tel Aviv's Sourasky threaten to follow suit.

Litzman 311 (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)
Litzman 311
The doctors' council at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center went on an hours-long strike Wednesday morning, shutting down the hospital in protest of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's orders to immediately dismiss a number of specialist doctors at the hospital who tendered letters of resignation on Tuesday.
Doctors said they were limiting their protest until 10 a.m. because the hospital management supported them in the showdown with the Health Ministry. The hospital refused to act on Litzman's orders.RELATED:Health Ministry looks to get residents back to work Residents appeal to High Court after talks fail On Tuesday evening Litzman had said he was considering accepting the resignations of fifteen specialist doctors, putting them into effect immediately without waiting until the end of the month when they were set to take effect. Speaking on Israel Radio Wednesday morning, a number of doctors explained that they gave 30 days notice for their resignations in hopes that the crisis would be resolved before the letters came into effect.The specialist doctors quit Tuesday in solidarity with the medical residents.
Doctors at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center also threatened to shut down that hospital if specialist doctors there were dismissed before their resignation letters came into effect.
The doctors believe that Litzman crossed a red line. In response to his statements, doctors' committees in all hospitals across the country said that if Litzman went ahead with his threats, they would disable the entire health system.
Earlier in the day President Shimon Peres called on the government to give top priority to the unrest caused by medical residents at large hospitals in the center of the country. "It would be a shame to lose a single physician, and of course, 100 of them," Peres said during a speech at an event for 700 young volunteers held Tuesday in Kiryat Gat.
The three-month-long dispute involved medical residents at hospitals from Haifa southward. In the last two days, a total of 287 residents refused to work, and at least 30 senior specialists resigned.
The hospital with the most residents to refuse to show up in the wards was Rambam Medical Center in Haifa (the figure of those staying away was 80 on Monday); Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (a total of 60); Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba (58); Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer (37); Bnei Zion in Haifa (16); Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva (15); Wolfson Medical Center in Holon; and four at the Rabin Medical Center of the same city.
The residents, who carry the burden of the daily routine in hospitals alongside the specialists and department heads, are demanding higher compensation for their work, the cancellation of the time-clock idea approved in August by the Israel Medical Association and no regular shift work for specialists. The Treasury, which has the power to reach an agreement, said that the August agreement cannot be broken and that the voluntary organization set up by the residents does not legally represent them.
The Health Ministry also received a report on Tuesday that about 30 specialists presented their resignations to Rambam, 30 at Sourasky and 20 at Schneider as backing for the younger doctors.
But the ministry said that despite the walkouts and no-shows, work in all the hospitals are continuing "normally" and that no departments or units have been allowed to close as a result. However, at certain parts of the hospitals, patients have been advised not to come in for elective care now. Some hospital patients have been transferred to hospitals in the periphery, which is not affected because doctors there - who benefit under the new agreement with the Treasury - have not resigned.
The ministry reiterated that it regarded "with great severity" the actions of the residents and specialists who back them, because their action "puts an added burden on senior doctors" who have somehow to take their places.
However, the ministry has asked the State Attorney’s Office to postpone legal action that could have been implemented immediately, apparently in the hope that the rebelling doctors will relent and continue negotiating with the Treasury.
Also on Tuesday, some 30 residents and interns at Hillel Jaffe Medical Center in Hadera suddenly abandoned their departments for two hours without getting their superiors’ authorization. The doctors said they did so to identify with the residents and specialists who resigned from their posts.
Hospital director Prof. Meir Oren, who supports "some" of the demands of the rebels, invited some residents to his office to talk. The demonstrators said they did not intend to harm patients and returned to their posts.