As economic woes grow, Hadassah hospitals strike

Medical staff fears for future after negotiations with Finance Ministry fail; doctors say state ‘stabbed us in the back’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Israeli doctors seen during an emergency meeting at Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein-Kerem Hospital on February 4, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)
Israeli doctors seen during an emergency meeting at Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein-Kerem Hospital on February 4, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

The medical staff at the Hadassah Ein Kerem and Hadassah Mount Scopus hospitals launched a strike Tuesday in protest over the collapse of negotiations with the Finance Ministry to cover their NIS 1.3 billion ($367 million) deficit.

During the open-ended strike, which began at 10 a.m., the hospitals are operating on their weekend and holiday rotation, which marks a significant reduction in staff. All treatment that is not deemed urgent — including clinics, overnight hospitalizations that are not oncology-related, and elective procedures and surgeries — has been suspended. With the exception of emergency cases, the hospitals will not accept new patients until further notice.

The medical practitioners are protesting because months-long discussions with the Finance Ministry to cover the debt have yet to yield results. Doctors fear that the treasury will turn to the courts to grant a stay of proceedings and appoint a trustee — a move that will give the government greater authority in managing Hadassah’s financial affairs, while freeing it of its obligations to the hospital. Employees warn that as a result they will bear the brunt of the financial crisis, as it would likely cause layoffs and compromise the quality of medical care.

Hadassah staff will only receive half their salaries this month due to the deficit.

“We’ve reached a moment we’ve never dreamed of, a moment of fighting for our existence,” said Dr. Sagit Arbel Along, chair of the senior physicians committee.

In a joint letter published by the committees for senior and junior doctors, department heads, and dentists, representatives accused the Finance Ministry of being unreasonable.

“The treasury demands unprecedented concessions that will permanently impair the conditions for doctors at Hadassah as compared to our medical colleagues at other hospitals,” they wrote.

“Furthermore, we learned that the treasury intends to apply for a stay of proceedings in court and impose its plan on us, the aim of which is [to deal] a devastating blow to Hadassah’s unique character.”

Israel Medical Association Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene.

“Hadassah has been a national asset for over a century. After over a year of negotiations, to our dismay we discovered last night that the state is stabbing us in the back,” he was quoted by financial daily The Marker as saying.

“The prime minister needs to wake up and provide a solution,” he added.

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