Parents say health minister rebuffed proposals to end cancer ward crisis
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Parents say health minister rebuffed proposals to end cancer ward crisis

As High Court-ordered mediation talks go into overtime, Hadassah parents say health minister’s ego ‘will kill our children’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Parents and young cancer patients from Hadassah Hospital,  Ein Kerem, march in protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and hospital CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017. ( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Parents and young cancer patients from Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, march in protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and hospital CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017. ( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Parents of child cancer patients who are fighting to have a new medical treatment unit established at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital charged Monday that Health Minister Yaakov Litzman rejected all five of their proposals and warned that his “ego will kill our children.”

The parents are taking part in a High Court-ordered mediation effort to try 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.

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 Shaare Zedek, have Hadassah director-general Zeev Rotstein fired, and open legal proceedings against him and Litzman.

Retired Justice Elyakim Rubinstein (R) speaks with Justice Salim Joubran at the Supreme Court during a meeting of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Retired Justice Elyakim Rubinstein (R) speaks with Justice Salim Joubran at the Supreme Court during a meeting of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Discussions headed by Elyakim Rubinstein, the former Supreme Court judge heading the mediation effort, began 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 at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday if no agreed solution is reached.

“We started the mediation process with cautious optimism,” the parents said in a statement Monday, the Ynet news site reported.

“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.”

Prof. Michael Weintraub, former head of Hadassah Hospital's pediatric hemato-oncology department, attends a rally at the protest tent built in Jerusalem's Sacher Park by parents, June 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prof. Michael Weintraub, former head of Hadassah Hospital’s pediatric hemato-oncology department, attends a rally at the protest tent built in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park by parents, June 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 more than two hours away 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 Hadassah Hospital, Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.

The health minister had made “strange” suggestions which 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.

Parents and supporters of young cancer patients from the hemato-ontology department at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and the hospital's CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem on June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Parents and supporters of young cancer patients from the hemato-ontology department at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and the hospital’s CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem on June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“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 hospital, 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.

Yonatan Halevy, Director General of Shaare Zedek Hospital , speaks with parents of children from Hadassah Hospital's hemato-oncology department while at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, June 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yonatan Halevy, Director General of Shaare Zedek Hospital, speaks with parents of children from Hadassah Hospital’s hemato-oncology department while at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, June 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 in late June, “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.”

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