Chief of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital Grilled Over Doctor Salaries

Treasury scrutinizes employment terms for physicians recruited after 2017 departures

Hadassah chief Zeev Rotstein in Israel's High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Finance Ministry has questioned Hadassah Medical Center Director Zeev Rotstein about claims that physicians staffing the children’s hematology-oncology unit in 2017 were earning unusually high salaries.

Also questioned by the ministry’s wages unit was a deputy hospital director, Oren Levy, and a former deputy in the human resources department, Mimi Cohen.

The queries were over suspicions that these physicians’ salaries deviated from sums that are seen as acceptable at Israeli government hospitals.

The questions focused primarily on the wages and employment terms for Prof. Joseph Laver, a pediatric bone marrow transplant expert and formerly chairman of Hadassah’s pediatric hematology-oncology center, who is no longer employed by the medical center.

Laver was one of the doctors recruited after a 2017 dispute that led to the departure of former unit head Mickey Weintraub and other physicians.

Hadassah officials said they couldn’t understand the reason for the questioning and the claims presented before them.

“I feel humiliated and frustrated at the country’s ungratefulness toward me,” Rotstein said “Instead of receiving a medal for our difficult rehabilitation work at the hospital and the pediatric hematology-oncology unit, we get an investigation based on false accusations.”

In the dispute two years ago, the Health Ministry rejected a request by the pediatric hemato-oncological specialists at Hadassah to move their unit to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. Weintraub and nine other physicians, including six senior doctors and three residents, subsequently quit their jobs at Hadassah. The dispute was widely covered by the media since the unit was the only one in Jerusalem to handle cases of pediatric cancers and blood diseases.

Physicians were brought in from Sheba Medical Center to provide a temporary solution, as Hadassah sought to swiftly recruit other physicians to staff the center. Dr. Gal Goldstein of Sheba was named head of the department and Laver joined as a senior physician. Critics questioned the financial investment involved in hiring the new staff while the hospital was in the throes of rehabilitation due to economic difficulties. Some critics claimed Laver was being paid hundreds of thousands of shekels, and that other physicians were also being paid high wages.

Hospital sources said the treasury’s finance unit head had approached hospital directors about Laver’s salary, housing and vehicle allowances. In 2018 Laver’s contract was revised in accordance with treasury demands. He left Hadassah in early 2019 and returned to the United States.

Hadassah heads say there’s no basis nor justification for the ministry’s investigation and that the matter has been handled in accordance with treasury instructions and with its approval.

Hadassah’s hospitals are nonprofit institutions, and are not owned or run by the government. But the state has been helping fund the Hadassah hospitals’ rehabilitation, and in 2014 agreed to pay out more than a billion shekels for this purpose over a period of seven years.

The issue of doctors’ wages has been particularly sensitive recently due to Hadassah’s decision to stop funding payments it owed physicians for their academic roles under a deal the hospital has with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. That issue is now in mediation.

Hadassah has said in response: “For two years Hadassah Ein Karem has taken great pride in the operations of the hematology-oncology unit, and the devoted care it provides for children in Jerusalem,” and that hospital were summoned for “questioning under caution [as a possible suspect] for false accusations from two years ago.”

“In 2017 all the senior physicians abandoned their patients at Hadassah to open a pediatric oncology unit at Shaare Zedek. Two years after the shameful event, investigators from the treasury’s wages unit have sought to clarify the false and ridiculous accusations. It turns out the country doesn’t know how to value good and qualitative administration and prefers to act utterly illogically.”

The Finance Ministry said in response: “We have no intention of responding to the content of the investigation or the testimony of those being questioned.”