Hospital chief: Government ‘abandoning’ us with order to end elective surgeries

Hadassah head Zeev Rothstein says ‘theater of the absurd’ is a threat to public health and hospitals’ financial stability

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative. Surgeons at work in an operating theater (iStock)
Illustrative. Surgeons at work in an operating theater (iStock)

With virus wards flooded with patients, a hospital director is accusing the government of cruelly “abandoning” health centers by suddenly cutting off a key source of funding, mid-pandemic.

On Monday morning, Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy ordered all hospitals to suspend elective surgeries, despite their importance to public health and the financial stability of hospitals, and dedicate all of their resources to the pandemic response.

Predicting that the number of serious patients, currently at 643, will rise by 200 to 300 in the next 10 days, Levy wrote to hospital chiefs: “I ask you to treat this situation as an emergency situation for the healthcare system. Hospitals must end elective, non-essential procedures.”

Zeev Rothstein, director of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, responded with incredulity, saying that his doctors are still trying to help patients cope with problems that arose from suspending non-urgent care during the first lockdown in March and April.

Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers transferring a woman at Hadassah Ein Karem hospital, in Jerusalem, on March 22, 2020. (Flash90)virus

“Delaying elective procedures is going to hurt many many people. We hurt a lot of Israelis in March and April, and some of them lost their lives because of this,” he told The Times of Israel, vowing to continue virtually all procedures at Hadassah’s two hospitals.

He added: “We should care for our people, for the old person who cannot walk without an operation on his hip and the person who will become paralyzed without a back operation. We should give everyone treatment.”

Rothstein said that the ruling was rash, as evident from the fact that no exception was given to Hadassah’s Mount Scopus hospital, even though it is coronavirus-free, as Hadassah only admits COVID-19 patients to its hospital in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood.

Zeev Rothstein, director of Hadassah Medical Center (courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

According to Rothstein, the decision could have dire consequences for the health system, as hospitals rely on funds from elective procedures. Issuing the directive without a package for financial compensation was “cruelty,” he said.

“It’s a theater of the absurd,” added Rothstein. “On the one hand, they are telling us to open beds and stop elective procedures, but on the other hand they are not giving the necessary funding.”

He said that the instruction regarding elective procedures is the latest in a series of financial blows to hospitals, including the loss of income from medical tourism and from treatment for Palestinians. Government talk of safeguarding the health system has not translated to funds, he complained, saying that money “doesn’t reach the battlefield.”

With the appropriate funding, he said, hospitals could hire the staff they need to continue elective procedures and care for the virus-stricken.

In some Israeli hospitals, whatever the financial implications, the cancellation of elective procedures seems inevitable.

In northern Israel, where cases are rife, Nahariya’s Galilee Medical Center is already pulling the plug on some non-urgent procedures.

“We have no choice,” said hospital director Masad Barhoum in a press briefing on Monday. “I look at the situation and it’s a battle.”

Masad Barhoum, director-general of the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya (courtesy of the Galilee Medical Center)

Barhoum said that with 90 patients in his institution, 16 in serious condition, he needs to open a fourth coronavirus ward — and can only manage to staff it by pulling doctors from surgery.

“The main problem is not the beds today,” he said. “I have 89 beds and I’m going to open more beds. The problem is the staff, and not the regular staff. I need intensive care doctors and intensive care nurses; this is the biggest problem. It’s a problem in every hospital.”

Israel’s coronavirus czar warned Sunday that virus numbers were reaching “emergency” levels that could see the country face 600 deaths a month, and ordered hospitals to add new virus wards.

Ronni Gamzu said in an interview with Channel 12 news that he fears the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition could reach 800 by the end of the week, a number that has been frequently cited as the maximum Israeli hospitals can cope with.

On Monday, Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Ashdod’s Assuta Medical Center announced they could no longer take in additional coronavirus patients due to overload.

According to the Health Ministry, in addition to Shaare Zedek and Assuta, the coronavirus wards at a number of major hospitals around the country have topped 100 percent capacity — Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem (129%), Netanya’s Laniado hospital (120%), and Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center (109%).

The Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Rothstein’s allegations.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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