Israel Hospitals Battle Over Who Gets to Treat Soldiers

Media attention, prestige and funding prompt medical centers to bicker over who gets to treat patients wounded on the battlefield.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

While the fighting in Gaza was at its fiercest, Israeli hospitals were also busy waging war — against one another.

The constant news reports about the wounded, and where they were being treated, has been accompanied by an intricate behind-the-scenes competition among Israel’s medical centers, a rivalry that centers around the pursuit of pride, prestige and funding.

Hospital directors have appealed to the army, the Health Ministry, the patients’ families and sometimes even the patient himself in a bid to get wounded soldiers into one of their beds.

The good news is that, just as Israeli civilians send food and care packages to the soldiers, Israeli nurses and doctors are eager to treat those who are wounded on the battlefield. The less good news is that the fierce competition over uniformed patients has become so bad that Dr. Arnon Afek, the director general of the Health Ministry, has asked the hospitals to stop bickering among themselves and start cooperating better.

Of course, it’s not just the desire to help the soldiers that motivates hospitals to keep their battlefield count high.

Another factor is prestige, said a veteran health care official, adding that treating the most seriously wounded is a source of pride — and media exposure.

Hospitals like Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva don’t usually generate that much press, but now they’ve become hubs for dozens of journalists hunting a good story, while hospitals in the center of the country, like Petah Tikva’s Beilinson and Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, have frequently had their medical staff featured in the press.

The media coverage isn’t necessarily an end in itself. It also brings in funds from donors, who typically have a weak spot for pictures of wounded soldiers and end up opening their wallets. “It’s been proven,” said the health care official.

The hospitals treating wounded soldiers also receive frequent visits from politicians and other high-profile figures, which can lead to more good press, and often an unusual opportunity to make requests of those in power.

The drawback of such visits, however, is that they take up a lot of time and can often disrupt work.

The competition for wounded soldiers usually takes place only after the patients have already been brought in for initial treatment. It is the medical staff in the field who decides when a soldier needs to be sent to the hospital, and at that point the most important consideration is how to get the soldier there fastest.

The infighting begins when patients are transferred to another hospital, whether the goal is to receive additional treatment or to be closer to family members.