Galilee Labor Leader Looks to Save Troubled Nursing Home

After helping save the Pri Galil packaging plant in Hatzor Haglilit, the regional Histadrut labor federation chairman is now trying to save the Sukat Shalom senior citizens' home in Safed.

If the facility closes, its 140 residents would have to move, and the 120 employees would lose their jobs.

"I finished one battle," said Yona Partok, the Histadrut's Upper Galilee regional chairman, "and I already have a new one."

Sukat Shalom was founded in 1980, and is a non-profit organization serving the entire Upper Galilee. It is believed to be one of the largest employers in Safed.

However, it currently has NIS 4.5 million in debt.

"A recovery plan was signed with the employees and the Histadrut two years ago, in which each side did its best to reduce the chances of the facility being shut," said Shmuel Regev, director of Sukat Shalom for the past two years. "The facility is now operating within its means but it is burdened by past debt, suppliers are reducing their credit lines, and the noose is tightening."

Sukat Shalom's volunteer board chairman, Eliezer Ronis, said localized efficiency measures are not enough to wipe out past debt, in part because social affairs and health ministry funding is based on set rates that do not reflect increased costs.

In addition, he says, a January 2008 public tender issued by the Health Ministry resulted in daily hospitalization rates that barely cover current expenses.

"Despite everything, we are managing to meet current expenses," he said. "We are simply asking for state guarantees for a loan to cover our past debt."

The state has refused.

A spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry said the ministry is aware of the problems at Sukat Shalom, but that the debt is due to poor management.

The ministry has no authority to cover such debts, but because the ministry and social services attach great importance to the matter, the ministry is examining how it might help, he said.

The ministry proposed a plan including lay-offs that would enable the institution to continue functioning as a public facility serving residents of the region on an equal basis. The plan was rejected by Sukat Shalom, he said.

The region's municipalities, including Safed, Rosh Pina, Kiryat Shmona and Metula, are members of the non-profit organization that runs Sukat Shalom.

If the facility is closed, the Social Affairs Ministry said current residents will be placed immediately at other institutions.