Hadassah Doctors Clash With Management - Another Never-ending Israeli War

Problems continue six months after recovery plan signed for Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Organization.

Olivier Fitoussi

Six months after a recovery plan was signed for Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Organization, the institution’s problems only seem to be getting worse. Over the weekend, the rift between doctors and management became an open break, with doctors threatening to cease all cooperation with the administration.

In a letter to Hadassah’s acting director general, Prof. Tamar Peretz, committees representing department heads and senior doctors at both Hadassah hospitals said that if problems with the physicians’ insurance coverage aren’t fixed, the doctors “will cease cooperating with management on every issue except those entailed by daily work or those liable to hurt patients.” From here it’s a short road to labor sanctions or a partial strike, as happened last year.

On Sunday, the state and the Hadassah Women’s Organization appointed Erez Meltzer the medical organization’s new chairman. Meltzer, who comes from the business world, is supposed to set up and head a search committee to find a new director general. While some observers hope his appointment will let the medical organization turn over a new leaf, it will take time. Meanwhile, nothing is going smoothly.

“We don’t want the patients to suffer, but we can’t work with an administration that isn’t telling us the truth,” said Prof. Dror Mevorach, who chairs the department heads’ committee.

A labor dispute was declared more than two weeks ago, meaning doctors can begin sanctions any time. But while sanctions would pressure the administration, they could also send the hospital back down the hole from which it barely escaped not so long ago — and only thanks to state aid.

An agreement signed in May was supposed to herald the start of a new era. But so far it hasn’t worked out. It’s hard to find anyone – whether in Hadassah’s hospitals or outside them, whether in the health system or in the government – who’s happy with the medical organization’s conduct.

Though Hadassah recently earned positive press for its treatment of terror victims, there has been a string of unsavory incidents. Recently, for instance, a fight between doctors and management over the firing of the head of the transplant unit at the Ein Karem hospital suspended transplants for a month. Such procedures normally earn the hospital about 25 million shekels ($6.5 million) a year.

In another incident, an external accountant was denied full access to Hadassah’s financial data, causing the state to refuse to transfer promised aid. And earlier this month, the medical organization’s acting chairman, Avi Balashnikov, abruptly resigned.

Senior doctors are now hoping that Meltzer will improve Hadassah’s administration. They accuse the current administrators of inexperience, mismanagement, breach of agreements and terrible interpersonal relations.

A week ago, Prof. Aviram Nissan, head of the general surgery department, announced his resignation. “I tried, in a great many meetings, to get backing from you as a department head,” he wrote to Peretz and Prof. Yoram Weiss, director of the Ein Karem hospital. “Despite our many conversations, nothing has moved. I received no backing, either written or oral, as a [department] head.”

The resignation was supposed to take effect on December 14 so Nissan could finish treating existing patients. But doctors say the administration ordered him to stop work immediately, even forbidding him to perform two operations scheduled for the next day. Management also blocked his access to Hadassah’s computers and his Hadassah email account, and canceled his parking card.

Hadassah countered that Nissan submitted his resignation on October 29, and management has since been trying to persuade him to stay. It also said he was the one who canceled the operations, and that his computer access was restored as soon as management realized it had been blocked.

Nissan is far from the only senior doctor who has sent angry letters to management in recent months, or to parties outside the medical organization. But the dispute that erupted this weekend isn’t personal; it relates to the doctors’ insurance coverage.

The doctors say this coverage is insufficient and doesn’t meet the criteria stipulated in the May agreement. In addition, they are fighting to recover the 60 million shekels – out of 80 million – that was taken from their personal research funds without their consent.

Hadassah charges that the doctors’ portrayal of the situation is incomplete, and that meetings have been held with them and lawyers in an effort to find solutions.

Peretz, who was appointed in June to replace Avigdor Kaplan, has drawn most of the fire. Some of Hadassah’s senior doctors openly despise her, as evident from private conversations and internal emails.

Peretz said the “personal smears aren’t worthy of comment. Despite everything, we continue to function as an outstanding medical center. I do the rounds and talk with patients. Ultimately, what lies behind all this is a very big battle over money and [the right to] provide private medical services. That’s also why our agreements with the health maintenance organizations aren’t making sufficient progress.”

In a letter to the physicians’ committee over the weekend, Peretz wrote: “Several discussions have been held on various issues recently between management and representatives of the physicians’ committee, and we have begun to find solutions that will satisfy all sides. In light of this, we are surprised by your decision to cease cooperation with the administration. We all have a responsibility to mobilize to save the hospital together.”