The court-appointed mediator tasked with negotiating an end to a bitter battle that has pitted doctors and the parents of child cancer patients against the health minister and the administration of a Jerusalem hospital, where their children are being treated, announced on Monday that his efforts had come up short.
Retired justice Elyakim Rubinstein told the High Court of Justice that the talks had reached an impasse.
The mediation efforts tried to solve a months-long and increasingly intractable conflict between Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem’s management and the Health Ministry on one side, and six doctors and three interns from the hospital’s pediatric hemato-oncology unit on the other.
“I have reached a dead end,” wrote Rubinstein. “I don’t think that at the moment it is possible to return the doctors to Hadassah.”
“To my very great regret my approach was not successful, and matters are moving to the court. I can only express the same hope as the Labor Court, that the resigning doctors will find their rightful place in their profession,” he said.
The doctors resigned in March over a management decision that they deemed unacceptable on medical and logistical grounds. They are being backed by most of their patients’ families.
After the doctors resigned, parents petitioned the High Court demanding it approve the opening of a new child cancer department at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, have Hadassah Director Zeev Rotstein fired, and open legal proceedings against him and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
On Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. the court is scheduled to hold a debate on the various petitions it has received about the matter and could force a framework solution on the parties — even if they don’t agree to it.
Discussions headed by Rubinstein began last Wednesday. On Sunday, the court agreed to extend them to 7 p.m. Monday evening and indicated it would be available to hear the case on Tuesday if no solution was reached.
Earlier Monday, parents of child cancer patients charged that Litzman had rejected all five of their proposals and warned that his “ego will kill our children.”
“We started the mediation process with cautious optimism,” the parents said in a statement Monday, “but over the past few days, we’ve experienced serious disappointment.”
“We brought to the table five different proposals, all of which were rejected by Health Minister Litzman for reasons of ego alone and not because of relevant considerations. In the end, this ego will kill our children.”
Eliad Shraga, the lawyer representing the parents, told The Times of Israel that the five proposals included a staged process by which some doctors and interns would return to Hadassah Ein Kerem to help strengthen the unit there for an interim period, moving over gradually to a new unit at Shaare Zedek; allowing the team to return to the Ein Kerem hospital, but under the management of an external body such as the Health Ministry rather than hospital CEO Rotstein; moving the entire operation to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, which already treats Arab children with cancer and has good facilities; and exploring a proposal by a “very strong external body” to build a new center at the Bikur Holim Hospital in downtown Jerusalem.
For its part, the Health Ministry suggested setting up temporary wards in Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva and Ziv Medical Center in Safed — the latter being an almost three-hour drive from Jerusalem. The government would pay for transportation and accommodation for the children and their families during that time, according to the suggestion.
It also proposed a temporary unit at Jerusalem’s second Hadassah Hospital, on Mount Scopus.
The health minister had made “strange” suggestions that were very costly and not feasible in practice, the parents’ statement said.
This made them wonder “Why is the Health Ministry doing everything just so that a department will not open in Shaare Zedek?” they said.
“Is it really more logical to open a department in the center of the country for children from Jerusalem, which will be costly in terms of transport and accommodation, will force sick children to run around out of the city and will endanger their health?”
The Health Ministry, whose representatives have been meeting with the parents and doctors, said in a letter to Rubinstein that the doctors had rejected all the proposals they put on the table.
Litzman joined the talks on Friday.
Ynet quoted sources who said the health minister also spoke — for the first time since the crisis broke — with the director of Shaare Zedek, Yonatan Halevy, whom he accused of trying to “steal” the department from Hadassah.
Litzman has repeatedly stated that he will not approve a unit at Shaare Zedek, asserting that his decision is based on the professional opinion of the ministry that two units in Jerusalem would split resources and weaken services overall.
On June 21, a front-page opinion piece in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted unnamed sources as saying, “They took a carefully planned step out of a desire to destroy the unit at Hadassah and create a new unit at Shaare Zedek… This was an attempt at a putsch.”
Responding to the claims leveled by Yedioth Ahronoth, Shaare Zedek said, “We never denied that Prof. Weintraub asked Prof. Halevy in November 2016 to consider opening a department in light of his intention and that of his doctors to resign from Hadassah. And so at that time, the option of a department at Shaare Zedek was looked at from the point of view of physical infrastructure.
“But at a very early stage, in February 2017, before the doctors resigned, and after the Health Ministry decided that it would not allow such a department at Shaare Zedek, Prof. Halevy tried to convince the doctors to stay at Hadassah, and any communication between him and them was on that level.”