Hadassah Women Aim to Oust Jerusalem Hospital Chief, Saying He Hurts Fundraising

Organization doesn’t want to extend Zeev Rotstein’s contract, but government officials praise his role in turning around the financially distressed institution

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, September 2019.
Emil Salman

The women’s organization Hadassah is accusing the director general of Hadassah Medical Center, the Jerusalem hospital it controls and has long been associated with, of undermining its efforts to raise money.

Director General Dr. Zeev Rotstein calls the charges “defamation and fake news” and has hinted that he may resign.

The organization sent a letter to Moshe Bar Siman Tov and Shai Babad, the directors general of the health and finance ministries, respectively, saying it opposes Rotstein’s contract being extended another three years pending a meeting with him. The letter asks the government to back the women’s group on the matter.

In a separate letter to Rotstein, which Hadassah attached to its appeal to the government, it describes how, “contrary to all logic,” the organization’s national president, Ellen Hershkin, and executive director, Janice Weinman, said he had frustrated fundraising and alienated donors. “Because of such behavior, there are already donors who are unwilling to meet with or even talk to you,” the letter asserts.

However, Babad has come out in defense of Rotstein. “In the opinion of all the expert officials in the finance and health ministries, Rotstein has done an outstanding job at the hospital and that should be the single, central factor in considering extending his term,” he told TheMarker.

“Hadassah needs a manager who knows how to run a hospital. We can’t allow a situation where a great and important hospital like Hadassah is harmed by infighting and insults. These are things that should be addressed outside the hospital and we will ensure that happens,” Babad said, adding that he was inviting a group of Hadassah Women to meet with him on the matter.

A delegation of Hadassah Women leaders is coming to Israel this week for a critical meeting of the hospital’s board. Beforehand, they are asking to meet with Bar Siman Tov and convince him not to support Rotstein. However, it seems unlikely they will succeed as Rotstein has the complete support of the Health Ministry.

In a statement, the Health Ministry noted that the medical center was in the midst of a recovery program due to be completed at the end of 2020 and that board, with the backing of the finance and health ministries, had already approved a three-year extension to Rotstein’s contract in November. “We’re in a turbulent period for the system and it would be wrong to make changes in the program’s direction,” it said.

A statement from Hadassah said: “Babad should be the first one shocked because while everyone, including the government, is trying to help the hospital financially, the [Hadassah] director general with his own hands is sabotaging the hospital’s fundraising. If it continues to hurt fundraising efforts, the government will have to inject more money.”

Rotstein has fired back at the organization, accusing it of “false accusations” and “fake news.” Even a public apology would not clear the air enough for him to feel he wants to continue the “difficult, challenging and thankless post” he has. The decision of Hershkin to raise the issue just two weeks before her term ends “raises many questions.”

Rotstein implied that Hadassah’s opposition to his staying on is connected with the hospital’s 2021-25 budget and the big financial commitment the organization would have to take. The issue of the budget came up at the end of November in a meeting that included Hadassah Women representatives.

Rotstein took over the top job at the Jerusalem medical center nearly four years ago amid high expectations. In his previous post, as the head of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Rotstein was regarded as an especially good fundraiser and for maintaining good relations with donors. But TheMarker has learned that Hadassah Women sources say that in private conversations he told donors, among other things, that Sheba was a better hospital than Hadassah.

In early December the organization hosted a special fundraising event in Florida to raise money for a rehabilitation center for soldiers and terror victims at the hospital’s Mount Scopus facility. Rotstein came to the event, which was attended by high-profile personalities such as Dalia Itzik, former minister and current chairwoman of the Hadassah International Israel Board of Trustees; Rami Levy, founder the Israeli supermarket chain; Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon; and Joey and Lindsay Schottenstein, whose family controls the U.S. retailer American Eagle.

The event raised $9 million, but in the letter to Rotstein the organization asserts: “To our astonishment and dismay, not only did you fail to assist in these efforts, you blatantly and disrespectfully went out of your way to disparage and harm the good will of Hadassah and its dedicated staff and volunteers, numerous times, while speaking directly to many of our donors. As an example, you made incorrect, inappropriate and inflammatory statements regarding how we utilize funds raised.

“Your actions not only tarnished and damaged the good reputations of Hadassah and HMO, but also created an environment that did and will continue to affect our ability to raise donations for HMO,” the letter said.

Relations between Rotstein and Hadassah Women have been fraught due to his personal style as well as the highly sensitive issue of fundraising. After Rotstein turned to the organization several weeks ago to seek its support for an extended contract, he was told he would have to meet several conditions regarding these issues.

“This [the Florida fundraiser] wasn’t the first time, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said a Hadassah source who asked not to be named. “After every overseas visit and meeting with donors they had to put out fires. ... He would be rude to donors, was disdainful and more than once told them that Sheba is a better hospital than Hadassah.”

The issue of his relations with donors arose several weeks ago when Prof. Ron Carmeli, head of the vascular surgery department, led a tour of the facility for the Davidson family, one of the hospital’s biggest donors, just hours after he had been released on bail in connection with a police investigation into sexual harassment. The decision drew criticism from Hadassah employees.

The medical center ended 2018 with a 38 million shekel ($10.2 million) deficit that would have reached more than 200 million without outside aid. However, its accumulated deficit was down to 574 million shekels from 646 million at the end of 2017 and 770 million when Rotstein took over.

“Whoever thinks that at the end of the recovery program Hadassah will be able to stand on its own two feet is mistaken,” Rotstein said. “We’ve done a lot of things and improved the situation, but Hadassah will need a lot of support from the government even after the recovery program is completed.”