After 5 Turbulent Years, Chief of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital Steps Down

Zeev Rothstein, who clashed publicly and often with hospital staff, management and finance ministry officials, reached a severance agreement with Hadassah's board

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Prof. Zeev Rothstein
Prof. Zeev RothsteinCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Prof. Zeev Rothstein, who took over as CEO of Hadassah Medical Center in the midst of a financial crisis more than five years ago, stepped down Monday after a stormy tenure at the helm of one of Israel’s top hospitals.

Rothstein was called to a pre-dismissal hearing three weeks ago but in the meantime reached a severance agreement with the hospital board. The terms of the agreement have not been made public, but they reportedly include cash compensation. Rothstein declined to comment.

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The Hadassah tenure of Prof. Rothstein, one of the most well-known and respected officials in the Israeli health care system, was dogged by controversy. He was sharply criticized for his personal management style as well as for the policy decisions he took as head of Hadassah and before that, at Sheba Medical Center. Still, he was lauded for his managerial abilities and his out-of-the-box thinking.

Prof. Rothstein started at Hadassah in January 2016 after 11 years as head of Sheba. His appointment was backed by then-Health Minister Yaakov Litzman in an effort to stabilize Hadassah’s perilous financial state with the help of a seven-year, 1.3-billion-shekel ($400 million) rescue program.

In the years that followed, he engaged in countless struggles with staff and management when he tried to overhaul the complicated organizational structure of the hospital, which employed 6,000 people and included five powerful workers’ unions. He also battled with Hadassah Women’s Organization, which controls the hospital, the Finance Ministry officials overseeing the recovery program, hospital employees and senior doctors.

One of his most public fights was with the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department in Hadassah’s Ein Karem facility in Jerusalem, which ended with the mass resignation of the entire medical team. That led to a sharp deterioration in the care of the department’s patients, which made Rothstein the object of parental and public anger.

In addition, over the years complaints were heard inside and outside Hadassah that Rothstein favored some patients with VIP treatment, among them the head of the Gur Hasidic movement, and that he disparaged hospital staff. Hadassah Women’s Organization officials claimed, among other things, that his behavior was driving away donors. Hadassah’s board, which included government representatives, failed to stop him.

At the end of 2019, Hadassah Women’s Organization leaders appealed to the directors general of the finance and health ministries to dismiss Rothstein because he was harming donations. Tensions grew in March after Dalia Itzik, a former Knesset speaker and government minister, became chairwoman of the board. Rothstein has publicly opposed the appointment. After she took the job, Itzik was expected to fire him.

“They gave him not just one or two chances,” said one Hadassah official about Rothstein. “He is vindictive, thinks he is above everyone else, does things on his own – and his conduct impairs the functioning of the hospital.”

Another Hadassah official claimed: “The hospital’s financial situation hasn’t improved under Rothstein – it’s even worse than before. There are discussions with the Treasury about extending the recovery program by another year.”

Nevertheless, when sources were asked whether Rothstein had succeeded in steadying the hospital’s finances, the answer depended on their relations with him. For instance, Prof. Yoram Weiss, the head of the Ein Karem facility, wrote in a letter to Hadassah employees on Monday that the medical center’s financial situation has vastly improved.

“In the seven years since the recovery plan was signed, the medical center has become one of the country’s most operationally efficiently run hospitals from the perspective of the Health Ministry’s indices,” Weiss, who is set to fill in for Rothstein until a permanent replacement is found, wrote. “We must preserve the institution’s financial health, so we must make constant efforts to examine the hospital’s performance.”

Weiss also wrote: “The Hadassah Medical Center administration, with the complete cooperation of the management committee and the Hadassah Women’s Organization, will act to ensure Hadassah continues to thrive while developing a medical infrastructure and personnel that will position the hospital as a leading global medical center in clinical medicine, teaching and, of course, medical research and development. All this while ensuring Hadassah’s financial stability vis a vis the various government bodies. “

Among the candidates to replace Rothstein are Dr. Osnat Levtzion-Korach, who had been head of Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus, and today is the director-general of Shamir Hospital (Assaf Harofeh).

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