Hospital workers across the country began a two-hour general strike Tuesday to show solidarity with their colleagues at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospitals, who are striking for a second week protesting the cash-strapped administration’s failure to pay full January salaries.
The nationwide strike, expected to run from 10 a.m. till noon, is largely symbolic, and while it is in effect hospital staff will only operate emergency services, such as the maternity ward, intensive care, and emergency room, alongside wards providing critical oncology treatments and emergency dialysis. A similar limited work stoppage has taken place the last two days.
Rambam Hospital in Haifa is the only hospital not participating in the strike.
Activities at Hadassah’s Mount Scopus and Ein Kerem hospitals have come to an almost complete standstill after hospital staff joined doctors on strike Monday.
All treatments deemed non-urgent — including clinics, overnight hospitalizations that are not oncology-related, and elective procedures and surgeries — have been suspended. With the exception of emergency cases, the hospitals were not accepting new patients until further notice.
Workers from Hadassah also protested outside of Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s house on Monday and the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday.
The Israeli Medical Association warned on its website that if steps were not taken to rehabilitate Hadassah, “further organizational actions will be considered, including sanctions and strikes in all medical institutions, to stop the severe blow to the doctors of Hadassah.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Hadassah management of a “serious failure” in its handling of hospital debts, which the public will now have to pay for.
“There was a serious failure there,” Netanyahu said at the weekly Likud Knesset faction meeting, addressing Hadassah’s financial mess which has all but paralyzed its two Jerusalem medical centers. “When the government is in deficit we handle it immediately. (They) accumulated debt there; it’s unclear why. Perhaps out of the assumption that someone else would pay.”
Netanyahu said Hadassah’s problems would demand attention and resources from the government, specifically the Health and Finance ministries.
“The public will pay,” the prime minister said, “and we must ensure that the deficit will not return.”
On Monday afternoon, the Jerusalem District Court was set to rule on the hospital administration’s request for a stay of proceedings that will lead to the appointment of a trustee. Employees are afraid that if a trustee is appointed, they would bear the brunt of the financial crisis, which they say would likely cause layoffs and compromise the quality of medical care.
Health Minister Yael German said that a stay of proceedings leading to the possible appointment of a trustee requested by the hospitals was a necessary part of the negotiation process, and would provide Hadassah three months’ time to reach agreeable terms with the Finance Ministry. She added, however, that the hospitals’ financial crisis came about as a direct result of inflated manpower, bloated salaries, and the failure of their private medical services to generate substantial revenues.
“There will be cutbacks, no more extravagant wages,” she told Channel 2 News. “Hadassah employees will receive salaries similar to their peers in other government hospitals.”
On Sunday, German announced a NIS 100 million ($28 million) recovery plan to help the medical centers pull out of the red. The sum, which would consist of a NIS 50 million government loan matched by NIS 50 million from the volunteer women’s organization that founded the two hospital campuses, isn’t nearly enough to cover the hospitals’ combined NIS 1.3 billion ($367 million) deficit.