Of High Places and Hospitals

Dr. Shimon Scharf is the director of Ashkelon's government hospital, Barzilai. He is also the chairman of the forum of administrators of government hospitals in Israel, known as Forum's 11.

As the spokesman and representative of the administrators of all government hospitals, Scharf wrote a letter to Haaretz against me for a series of articles I recently published on the managerial failures of Israel's health system. The letter attacked me personally with great venom, peaking with, "I'm sure that in her time of medical need, Arlosoroff will be able to use her connections despite her opinions about the health system as reflected in her articles."

Admit it: that is a particularly telling statement.

Even assuming it didn't include a veiled threat, it admitted something everybody already knew: connections in government hospitals can be used to obtain better medical treatment in a system required by law to provide equal care to all. The chairman of the hospital administrators forum says so.

Perhaps in the heat of his attack on me Scharf didn't realize that he had admitted to one of the most serious charges against the government hospitals - that they are ridden with cronyism, and that equality and fairness are entirely alien to them. Scharf is sunk so deep in the system, and in the norms that characterize it, that he no longer even notices the unacceptable in his own words.

Here is a fact that may open Scharf's eyes. I happened to visit a government hospital recently. It happened in the emergency room of Ichilov's children's hospital after my toddler was injured in preschool. I rushed him off urgently to the emergency room, where I got the very best care. Dr. Leshem, a plastic surgeon, operated on my son impeccably, professionally and beyond reproach.

It was a pleasure to see the professional face of Israeli medicine. It was nice to see that medicine in Israel knows how to provide quality care to just a mom who comes into the ER off the street, without identifying herself and without using any connections in high places. Dr. Scharf can be rest assured - some of my closest friends are doctors, among them senior doctors at Ichilov - but I don't use my connections with them. Just a sort of principle of a journalist who doesn't use her name, her position, or her connections to garner perks. That is the same principle under which as the editor of Haaretz's business opinions page, I approved the publication of Scharf's letter word for word - despite it being full of baseless vitriol about me.

Yes, there are people in Israel with principles, although Scharf doesn't know them. Scharf lives in another country, in which connections are routine and the public kitty is like the senior doctors' "personal pocket." There is no other explanation for why hospital directors - along with the administration of the Health Ministry - consider the Finance Ministry a sort of enemy, when the latter's only guiding principle is guarding public money (the treasury, by the way, demonstrates empathy for the health system in everything associated, for instance, with the privatization of hospitals.)

There is no other explanation for why public health administrators insist on hiding public funds, and even to claim that is okay. In this way, hospital administrators support Sarel, which buys NIS 700 million in pharmaceuticals for them and refuses to report its employee wage arrangements to the treasury. In this way, hospital administrators distribute NIS 1.1 billion in budgets to their subsidiary corporations, and there too refuse to report the wages they pay doctors to the treasury. Maybe because they have something to hide - rumor has it that senior doctors get millions in wages from those self-same corporations.