Financially-strapped Hadassah Beset by Strikes, Court Petition

Administrative, maintenance staff vow to join striking doctors; MDs countrywide walk out in sympathy

The Israeli Medical Association sought on Sunday to block a bid by financially troubled Hadassah University Hospital to win protection from creditors as hundreds of Hadassah doctors demonstrated in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office urging him to intervene.

As the world renowned medical center grapples with debt running into hundreds of millions of dollars, the hospital was forced to go on emergency footing as administrative and maintenance staff held a rally on Sunday to protest the hospital’s failure to pay their full January salaries. Histadrut labor federation officials told the gathering that if salaries aren’t paid, hospital workers should go on strike Monday.

Meanwhile, hospital physicians around the country walked off the job for two hours in the morning in solidarity with their Hadassah colleagues.

IMA Chairman Leonid Eidelman told the demonstrating doctors in front of the Prime Minsters Office that they should not be held responsible for the hospital’s financial crisis. “The doctors didn’t steal from Hadassah, quite to the contrary,” he declared. “The prime minister must intervene. Only he can give the instructions that will end this crisis.”

The hospital, whose origins go back more than 100 years and whose fund-raising campaigns are an integral part of Diaspora Jewish life, is straining under an accumulated deficit of 1.3 billion shekels ($368 million). The hospital has a some 1,000 beds, 31 operating theaters and nine special intensive care units, and runs five schools teaching medicine and other health professions.

“Hadassah hospital is an inseparable part of Jerusalem and the State of Israel. We cannot allow it to collapse,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Sunday, saying he was working behind the scenes to help solve the crisis.

The IMA, which acted after Hadassah filed a motion in the Jerusalem District Court on Friday for a so-called request for a stay of proceedings, took the unusual step of petitioning the National Labor Court, rather than turning to a lower, regional labor court. In its petition, which also named the government as a party, the IMA alleged that Hadassah hospital’s administration was in breach of its labor agreements with physicians at the hospital and was not bargaining in good faith. The labor courts are the appropriate forum to litigate the situation at Hadassah, the IMA asserted.

The IMA accused Hadassah of trying to avoid addressing labor relations issues at the hospital in their proper forum, namely the labor courts, and instead impose employment terms on the doctors and other hospital employees.

Most of Hadassah’s debt is owed to its employees, IMA Secretary General Leah Wapner claimed, estimating it reached some 900 million shekels ($255 million). The IMA said it opposed Hadassah candidate, attorney Lipa Meir, as court-appointed trustee, saying the fact that he also represents the Clalit health maintenance organization, the country’s largest, constitutes a conflict of interest.

Hadassah’s deficit is due in part to the large discounts it gives the HMOs, including Clalit, the IMA maintained. It also claimed that to the best of its knowledge Clalit is a creditor of Hadassah, presenting a further conflict for Meir. It also cited Clalit’s opposition to so-called Sharap services at Hadassah, in which doctors use the hospital’s facilities for private patients in addition to patients referred through the country’s four major HMOs.

Hadassah, which is supported by the New York-based Hadassah women’s organization, maintains two hospital campuses, both in Jerusalem. Due to the hospitals’ troubled financial state, employees received only half their January salaries earlier this month. An effort to come to an agreement on austerity measures with the hospitals’ doctors faltered in part over the administration’s demand that the salary cuts the doctors had agreed to be in the form of outright cuts rather than loans, as the doctors insisted.

The IMA accused the Finance Ministry of applying improper pressure on Hadassah to curb the doctors’ wages and worsen other terms of their employment, and said the Health Ministry had failed to provide proper oversight of the Hadassah doctors’ insurance. The IMA accused the hospital of being interested in a “deluxe” version of a stay of proceedings through which nothing would change at Hadassah − “not the controlling owner [the Hadassah women’s organization] and not the [hospitals’] management,” which the IMA accused of being primarily responsible for the current plight.