Threatening partial strike, public hospitals crank up budget protest

Major medical centers across country say that from Wednesday they’ll only perform life-saving procedures and won’t admit new patients from Magen David Adom

Illustrative: Ilana Cohen, chairwoman of the National Nurses Union, speaks during a protest at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on July 20, 2020, after nurses announced a general strike. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Ilana Cohen, chairwoman of the National Nurses Union, speaks during a protest at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on July 20, 2020, after nurses announced a general strike. (Flash90)

The heads of seven public hospital systems announced a partial strike on Tuesday in protest of the government decision not to increase funding amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Magen David Adom emergency service director Eli Bin, the directors said that they will only be performing life-saving procedures from Wednesday and won’t admit new patients from the Magen David Adom emergency service.

The threatened service disruption will affect Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital and both hospitals in the Hadassah system, Bnei Brak’s Mayanei Yeshua, Netanya’s Laniado, and Nazareth’s St. Vincent de Paul, Holy Family Hospital, and Nazareth Hospital.

They accuse the health authorities of failing to live up to their budgetary commitments and say that they do not have the funding to provide adequate care.

“We would like to inform you that due to the structural deficit imposed on us by the state and due to its non-compliance with agreements made with public hospitals, the seven hospitals [we run] will be unable to function fully and provide adequate care to patients due to lack of budgeting,” the hospital directors wrote in their letter.

“Tonight, the prime minister is taking off [for the United States], leaving us to fight the coronavirus with a gun without bullets. We expect him to intervene in this crisis,” the hospital directors added. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett left Israel for the US on Tuesday for a meeting with US President Joe Biden.

The renewed threat came two days after the same hospital directors said that they would stop accepting COVID patients starting Monday and announced the partial strike from Wednesday.

On Monday, however, the hospitals appeared to back off their threats, accepting COVID patients needing urgent care, though MDA medics were advised to transport non-emergency cases to other hospitals.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz reportedly invited the hospital officials for talks immediately following the Sunday announcement, which he attended.

However, the directors claimed on Tuesday that no one from the government had reached out to negotiate with them. They demanded that such talks take place immediately in order for them to return to being fully operational.

Medical staff working in in the coronavirus ward of the Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, on July 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The hospital administrators claim that the NIS 300 million ($93 million) promised by the state to public hospitals has not yet been transferred. Additionally, a clause in their agreement with the Finance Ministry promising an additional NIS 55 million ($17 million) each month that the pandemic continues has also not been kept since July, they claim.

In June, the same hospitals boycotted a government event honoring the health system for COVID-fighting efforts, accusing the state of financially abandoning them.

Tuesday’s announcement came shortly after updated Health Ministry figures showed that than 9,800 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, close to an all-time high of new daily cases since the start of the pandemic. The positivity rate of all those tested on Monday stood at 6.63 percent, a high not seen since February.

With the release of new figures on Tuesday morning, more than 1 million Israelis total have tested positive for COVID since the outbreak began in early 2020.

During the peak of the third wave in mid-January, more than 10,000 cases were reported in one day, but that figure has not been replicated since. On August 16, 8,772 new COVID cases were reported, which was the highest one-day figure in the fourth wave so far.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 72,572 active COVID cases in Israel, with 1,124 people hospitalized, 678 in serious condition and 123 of them on ventilators. Of the 141,472 COVID tests carried out on Monday, 9,831 came back positive.

The ministry said that 12 people died on Monday and 30 on Sunday.

Despite an extensive and prolonged government campaign, more than 1 million eligible Israelis have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to statistics released by the Health Ministry on Monday, the approximately 1,080,000 people who have not received any dose of the vaccine are most likely to be aged 12-39 and come from an underprivileged background.

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