The staff at Jerusalem’s Bikur Holim Hospital went on strike at midnight on Sunday over unpaid salaries, after operating on an abbreviated Shabbat schedule for the previous 10 days.
The emergency room had already been closed to any incoming patients since Tuesday, and the hospital also stopped admitting expectant mothers. The Bikur Holim maternity wing is one of the busiest in Israel, and over 6,000 babies are born there every year.
Employees of Jerusalem’s oldest hospital claim that they received only part of their salaries for the month of September and that no money was placed into their pension funds. October salaries were also unpaid. The hospital has been experiencing serious financial difficulties for the past few years.
On Monday morning, Walla reported that dozens of hospital employees were picketing outside the hospital, carrying signs and calling for government intervention to solve the crisis.
Roni Amran, union representative for the striking workers, told Israel Radio that government assistance was necessary because of the hospital’s financial state. “They expect us to treat patients, but we have become patients ourselves,” she said.
On Monday, officials in the Health Ministry enacted contingency plans for sending patients to other medical institutions. However, according to Israel Radio, some current patients will continue to receive treatment at the facility.
The Health Ministry on Sunday issued a statement criticizing workers who had left their stations, as well as the staff’s threat to strike. According to the statement, even in cases of extreme salary delay, “no medical institution can take upon itself the decision to abandon medical facilities.”
The director-general of the Health Ministry, Dr. Roni Gamzu, informed the hospital staff that even if they were forced to transfer patients to other facilities in the area, the process would be coordinated and gradual. “Under no circumstances will the hospital staff walk out, thus endangering their patients during this process,” the ministry stressed.
The striking hospital staff consist of some 225 nurses, 125 paramedics and 180 administrative staff members.
The hospital’s 120 doctors are currently still working as usual, but last Wednesday they also announced that they were in a labor dispute and threatened to go on strike within the next week-and-a-half if their salary demands were not addressed.
Last week, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) reportedly met with the deputy chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Avi Nissenkorn, who represented the Bikur Holim nurses and administrative staff. At the end of the meeting, it was announced that the salaries would be paid in full on Thursday, thus bringing an end to any sanctions.
The money, however, was not transferred, and on Sunday morning an emergency meeting was called for the staff; many nurses and administrators attended instead of continuing to work.
Gamzu on Sunday commanded hospital CEO Dr. Raphael Pollack to appeal to the Labor Court to issue a back-to-work order against the nurses and administrators to prevent the strike. Citing the public health ordinance, Gamzu referred to the current situation as “a real danger to the health of the hospital’s patients.”
The Jerusalem Labor Court was set to rule on the back-to-work order on Monday afternoon.
Bikur Holim was originally established in 1826 in what is now considered the Old City of Jerusalem. The building in the current location on Strauss Street in downtown Jerusalem opened its doors in 1925.
The hospital was saved from near bankruptcy in 2007 by Israeli-Russian businessman Arkady Gaydamak, but he stopped the funding in 2010 when he returned to Russia. Since then, the hospital has struggled financially.