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Hundreds of workers at Holon's Abarbanel psychiatric hospital and hundreds of patients' families demonstrated outside the hospital and near the Bat Yam shopping mall against plans to shut the hospital down.

The hospital is scheduled to close its doors to new patients as of November 1 and shut down completely next July.

Abarbanel, which today accommodates 484 inmates and some 600 workers, serves Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Holon, Bat Yam, Azur and a large part of Rishon Lezion. "We are not sure how the closure would save the state money," staff union spokesman Avi Edri said yesterday. "Maintaining a bed in a regular hospital costs twice as much as here, where there already is a professional and organizational infrastructure."

Senior Finance Ministry sources said the ministry's decision to close the hospital was erroneous. "The decision was made by a team headed by the Health Ministry director-general and other senior officials, after the social cabinet decided that one psychiatric hospital must shut down. The team decided to shut Abarbanel."

The treasury said the number of patients fell by 30 percent, but the number of workers remained the same. "No patient will be thrown into the street, patients will be moved to other psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric departments in other hospitals," treasury sources said.