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Health Minister Thwarted Firing of Embattled Hadassah Hospitals Director

High Court to hear demand for Zeev Rotstein’s removal and for new children’s cancer ward in a different Jerusalem hospital

Parents of children from the Hadassah cancer ward hold a media conference in the "field hospital" they set up in Jerusalem's Sacher Park, June 4, 2017.
Oliveir Fitoussi

The Hadassah women’s organization, which owns the two Jerusalem hospitals comprising the Hadassah Medical Center, tried to fire the medical center’s director five months ago, but was thwarted by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The disclosure comes a day before the crisis at Hadassah’s Ein Karem hospital moves to the High Court of Justice. On June 5, the resignations of nine doctors in the hospital’s pediatric hemato-oncology unit went into effect. Meanwhile, parents whose children had been treated there remain on hunger strike in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, wanted to fire Prof. Zeev Rotstein because it was dissatisfied with his job performance, and even appealed to Litzman over the issue. But Litzman, according to several sources, said he stands behind Rothstein and intends to leave the director in his post.

Litzman’s aides said they are unaware of any meeting between him and the women’s organization on this issue. But the organization didn’t deny the report.

On Tuesday, the High Court will hear the parents’ petition against the hospital, Litzman and other parties for what the petition terms “Hadassah’s criminal conduct and the absolute backing it has received from the health minister.” Specifically, the parents want Litzman to allow another Jerusalem hospital, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, to hire the doctors who quit Hadassah and open its own unit for children with cancers of the blood. They also want Hadassah to fire Rotstein and for police to begin a criminal investigation against Rotstein and Litzman.

The court is hearing the case after efforts to negotiate an agreement failed. The hospital said in its response to the petition that it has already replaced the doctors who quit with “talented, professional, high-level specialists.” But that failed to satisfy the parents.

“We hope the court will give an order to open the unit at Shaare Zedek, or at least tell the health minister not to interfere with the Shaare Zedek director’s decision on whether to open the unit,” said one of the eight hunger-striking parents. But the court is considered more likely to settle for outlining terms for negotiations between the parties.

The crisis over the unit only exacerbated existing tensions between Rotstein and the women’s organization. Several sources said that some of the organization’s fundraisers were very unhappy with how Rotstein has handled the crisis, and that some even considered suspending their fund-raising efforts temporarily before they were persuaded not to do so.

Sources in the health system, both within and outside Hadassah, said Rotstein’s relationship with the women’s organization is terrible. Some even said that the organization’s national president, Ellen Hershkin, is no longer speaking to Rotstein because she was so offended by something he said.

Rotstein’s personality, experience and management doctrines are all very different from those of his predecessors in the post. That could be why Litzman considers him the best, and perhaps the only person, to restore the hospitals’ financial stability and clean up their organizational chaos.

In an interview with the Calcalist newspaper before taking the job, Rotstein said, “We must put the patients’ interest first. Anyone who thinks Hadassah was set up for his benefit will have to change his attitude or leave his job. Hadassah isn’t there to please the women’s organization, the senior doctors, the board of directors or the director, but to care for the patients.”

He initially sought to get rid of the government-appointed accountant overseeing the hospitals’ finances, even though this was part of an agreed financial recovery plan, because he claimed the accountant undermined his authority and his ability to run the hospitals. But both the Finance Ministry, which appointed the accountant, and the women’s organization vetoed that idea.

The women’s organization was also upset by the language Rotstein used toward the treasury’s former Accountant General, Michal Abadi-Boiangiu. In one particularly crass letter to her, Rotstein wrote, “It’s astounding how smart and quick-witted you can be on one hand, and how your mega-ego is capable of sending you out of your mind on the other.”

That letter prompted Hershkin to send Rotstein an angry letter of her own, with copies to the health and finance ministers and both ministries’ director generals, saying that continued remarks of that sort would damage the hospitals and their patients.

Rotstein said he was unaware of any attempt by the organization to fire him and insisted that he has good relations with the group.

“I get emails and messages of support and encouragement from them and brief them on developments,” he said. “Just recently, I had a long talk with them at night, because of the time difference.

“About six months ago, I asked the organization to work with me via the board of directors and not directly to preserve proper administrative procedures,” he added. “I assume that move was interpreted by various parties as something related to our relationship. But the relationship is good.”

Until the medical center suffered a major financial crisis in 2013, the women’s organization was directly involved in the hospitals’ management, including administrative decisions and appointments. The recovery plan greatly reduced its influence, though it maintains four seats on the nine-member board.

Since the recovery plan was signed in July 2014, the women’s organization has given the hospitals 660 million shekels ($187 million). It has also transferred assets to the state in exchange for increased government funding.

The women’s organization said that since it founded the medical organization 100 years ago, it has always supported the hospitals’ administration.

“The most important thing to all of us is the welfare of the sick children,” added the statement, issued by the group’s Israeli chapter. “The hospital administration headed by Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the Health Ministry and the hospital’s board are working night and day to find a solution that will enable the children to receive the best treatment. Thanks to their efforts, the hospital administration managed to recruit a team of specialists from Israel and abroad who will continue to give the children the best treatment.”

It added that it was committed to the recovery agreement, was continuing its financial support for the hospital and would “continue to assist the hospitals’ development in the future as well, as it always has.”